Norfolk Southern Train Derails in Ohio, Releases Toxic Fumes and Causes Health Risks
On February 3, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, resulting in the release of toxic chemicals and a fire that burned for three days. The train was operated by Norfolk Southern, a rail corporation based in Atlanta, and contained five cars with vinyl chloride, a toxic and flammable gas.
Residents of the small town were urged to evacuate due to the risk of an explosion, and crews conducted a “controlled release” of the chemicals, releasing them into the air and burning them. This caused a large plume of black smoke to billow over the area, raising concerns about its effects on health and safety.
The cause of the derailment is believed to be a mechanical issue with one of the rail car axles according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Surveillance footage from the derailment showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheating moments before the accident.
The company did not classify its train as a “high hazardous material train,” Governor Mike DeWine said in a press conference, meaning Norfolk Southern was not required to notify Ohio of what it was transporting. The governor has since called on Congress to reexamine regulations for trains carrying toxic substances.
On February 10th, the EPA sent Norfolk Southern a letter titled “General Notice of Potential Liability”, indicating their conclusion that Norfolk Southern might be liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act for cleanup of the site, or for costs incurred by the EPA in cleaning it up.
As a result, multiple class action lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern over the crash, alleging negligence. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that 3,500 fish of 12 different species have died in the derailment’s aftermath.
Those who remained in the vicinity and breathed in the fumes were at risk of fatal or serious harm, such as skin irritation and lung injury. Buttigieg weighed in Monday evening, expressing concern for the residents affected by the derailment.
The rail cars contained vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and isobutylene, all of which are associated with various health risks.
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