East Palestine Train Derailment: EPA, DeWine Visit Following Vinyl Chloride Release
On February 3, 2021 a freight train operated by Norfolk Southern Railway derailed in a fiery crash on the outskirts of East Palestine, Ohio, near the state line with Pennsylvania. Out of the ten derailed cars, five had vinyl chloride, a colorless gas that is highly volatile, inside of them for commercial purposes. The cars containing vinyl chloride were unstable and at risk of exploding, so crews executed a controlled release of the vinyl chloride on February 6, creating a massive smoke plume above the town for several hours.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and officials visited East Palestine on Thursday afternoon following the derailment to hear from impacted residents, visit the derailment site, and meet with the state's emergency responders. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting a safety investigation to determine the probable cause of the derailment, and has identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment. Surveillance video shows what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.
The EPA has stated that short-term inhalation of considerable amounts of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen, may be connected to central nervous system issues, while long-term exposure has been shown to result in liver damage and even a rare form of liver cancer. Burning vinyl chloride sends phosgene, a toxic gas that was used as a weapon during World War I, and hydrogen chloride into the air.
The EPA said on Sunday it had not detected any “levels of concern” of hazardous substances released during or after the crash, though the agency is continuing to monitor the air throughout East Palestine, including inside at least 210 homes. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said air in East Palestine is safe following the train derailment, but people in the area have been advised to drink bottled water. On Feb. 8, the evacuation order for properties located within a 1-mile radius of the derailed site was lifted, as air and water samples taken the day before had been found to be safe, according to officials.
Governor DeWine has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health and Emergency Response Team, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to offer on-site support in East Palestine.
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