The Reality of the Ohio Train Derailment
POSTED March 20, 2023
On February 3rd in East Palestine, Ohio, approximately 50 Norfolk Southern Train cars derailed resulting in a fire spanning the length of the cars, with 11 of them holding hazardous chemicals. The derailment is under investigation as legal and environmental impacts are reviewed.
According to the preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board released on February 24th, it is believed that a hot axle caused the initial spark starting a fire on a train car. Although the train passed by two defect detectors, it wasn’t at the point to trigger the alarm. By the time the train passed the third detector, it was too late.
The train had 149 cars and only 3 employees on board. At this time, investigators indicated the crew was not at fault and followed protocol. The NTSB said that it will take 12 to 18 months to publicly determine the probable cause of the derailment.
On February 6th, Gov. Mike DeWine signed off on the proposal to do a controlled burn on the chemicals in the train cars. Officials said it was to prevent an explosion that could have had widespread damage. This burn released deadly gas from the hazardous materials into the air.
Residents in Ohio have been feeling sick and claim their illness is due to the chemicals seeping into the air, water, and ground. USA Today states the chemical exposure has been mostly contained to the immediate derailment area. However, 20 miles of rivers and streams connect to this area. Originally, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported 3,500 fish died within a five-mile span. Recently, they have updated the number to 43,000 fish.
One of the hazardous chemicals on the train cars was vinyl chloride. This chemical was in 5 of the 11 train cars containing chemicals. Vinyl chloride is used to make hard plastic for things like pipes, cable and wire coatings, and packaging materials. When burned, it can create toxic pollutants called dioxins which can cause cancer, interfere with hormones, and cause damage to the immune and reproductive systems. Vinyl chloride also creates two gasses when burned, hydrogen chloride and phosgene. Phosgene was used during World War 1 for chemical warfare and is extremely deadly.
Workers cleaning up the derailment are allegedly falling ill as well. According to the presidents of a dozen unions, they are not being provided with the correct protective equipment such as respirators, rubber overboots and gloves and claim it is all the result of Norfolk Southern’s “cost-cutting business models”.
Most people assume that this derailment is only affecting a small area in Ohio. This is not the case, due to contaminated water and soil being shipped to different states nearby. In an attempt to get rid of the high chemical exposure, workers are required to travel over state lines with contaminated materials. This is all done without the approval of state officials and the miscommunication has caused many people to be surprised at what they are currently doing. Officials in Texas and Michigan have stated that they were unaware about the water and soil taken to their areas for disposal.
If some of the chemicals remain at the high amount they’re at now, they can pose a threat long-term. Exposure to low amounts of vinyl chloride increases a person’s risk of developing cancer. This chemical can also cause problems with the liver, kidney, spleen, nervous system, and blood. This can overall affect the jobs in the future. After multiple people become sick, they won’t be able to fill the open-spots created.
Many people are worried because of the lack of answers. Questions continue to arise about how this will impact people long-term. Will the cleanup and impact span over the next five to ten years? Or will the residents be “forgotten” like the victims of the Montana asbestos clouds and Flint, MI water crisis?