Train Derailment in East Palestine Leads to EPA Liability and Ohio River Contamination

On February 3rd, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.[0] The train was heading from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, and due to the risk of explosion, a “controlled release” of vinyl chloride from five derailed cars was conducted.[1] This prompted evacuations from nearby residents.[2] The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed 10 wrecked cars contained hazardous materials, but the train was not designated as having “high-hazardous material.”[1]

As a result of the derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent Norfolk Southern a “General Notice of Potential Liability” letter on Feb. 10.[3] It said the company “may be responsible under [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act] for cleanup of the Site or costs EPA has incurred in cleaning up the Site.”[4] The EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, also visited East Palestine on Feb. 16 to oversee recovery efforts, meet local officials and reassure residents that the government stands behind them.[5]

The NTSB suspects a mechanical issue with a rail car axle ultimately caused the derailment.[6] According to a Tuesday report from the National Transportation Safety Board, an overheated wheel bearing was the cause of the derailment of the rail car.[7] The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to look into what caused the derailment and will release a preliminary report in two weeks' time.[7]

The chemical plume of butyl acrylate that leaked into the Ohio River after the train derailment in East Palestine is expected to arrive in the Cincinnati area sometime this weekend.[8] Butyl acrylate is a compound used in paints, plastics, sealants and other products and can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and upper respiratory system, along with sensitization dermatitis and difficulty breathing.[9] Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says air in East Palestine is safe following train derailment and people in the area were advised to drink bottled water.[0]

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission and other organizations are testing and observing the water at various sites, and intakes that could potentially permit butyl acrylate to enter the potable water supply are being shut down.[10] To date, 3,150 cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed from the area of the derailment and 942,000 gallons of contaminated water have been removed.[10]

0. “Erin Brockovich warns Ohio train derailment is transpiring into a ‘nightmare': None of this makes sense” Fox Business, 16 Feb. 2023,

1. “Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says air in East Palestine is safe following train derailment; people in area advised to drink bottled water”, 14 Feb. 2023,

2. “Distance between Level 1 hazmat teams in Ohio causes concern for small cities” 10TV, 16 Feb. 2023,

3. “Ohio town rues chemical train derailment as ‘our Chernobyl'” BBC, 17 Feb. 2023,

4. “What we know about the Ohio train derailment” Axios, 13 Feb. 2023,

5. “Pastor near Ohio derailment hopes it won't spell the end for community” Crux Now, 17 Feb. 2023,

6. “Norfolk Southern train's likely route passed through northern Ohio” Akron Beacon Journal, 16 Feb. 2023,

7. “Norfolk Southern eliminated role in derailment area” FreightWaves, 16 Feb. 2023,

8. “Chemical plume in Ohio River to arrive in Cincinnati area this weekend. How safe is the water?” The Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Feb. 2023,

9. “‘No risk to the public': Ohio River being monitored for chemicals in Tri-State” FOX19, 14 Feb. 2023,

10. “Ohio Gov. DeWine explains where derailment chemical plume will be ‘sometime tomorrow’” WJW FOX 8 News Cleveland, 16 Feb. 2023,