Train Derailment Releases Hazardous Chemicals, EPA Traces Contaminant Plume

On February 3, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, leading to the release of vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and isobutylene. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to the train company, Norfolk Southern, alerting them that these chemicals were being released into the air, surface soils, and surface waters.[0]

In an effort to avoid an explosion, the train company conducted a controlled burn of the vinyl chloride, releasing phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air, creating a dark mushroom cloud over the town.[1] Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was notified that the train was not considered a “high-hazardous material train” and was not required to notify the state of its contents.[2] DeWine has called for Congress to review the regulations for trains carrying hazardous substances.[3]

The EPA has been tracking a contaminant plume in real-time as it moves down the Ohio River.[2] The plume is moving at a rate of one mile an hour and officials are prepared to close off drinking water intakes to allow any chemicals to pass by.[4] The EPA has also issued a “General Notice of Potential Liability” letter to Norfolk Southern, stating the company is responsible for the cleanup of the site or costs the EPA has incurred in cleaning up the site.[5]

The spill has caused health concerns, with residents reporting headaches, nausea and other ailments. It has also caused an environmental impact, with estimates that 3,500 fish of 12 different species have died in the 7.5 miles of streams south of the town. The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet made an official determination of the cause, but believes a mechanical issue with one of the rail car axles is responsible.[6]

0. “Five lingering questions over Ohio train derailment, toxic spill” The Hill, 14 Feb. 2023,

1. “Lawsuit: Thousands of Western Pa. residents at risk after Ohio train derailment” TribLIVE, 15 Feb. 2023,

2. “NTSB says videos of Ohio train derailment include one showing wheel bearing in ‘final stage of overheat failure'” CNN, 14 Feb. 2023,

3. “What array of toxic chemicals leaked from the Ohio train derailment?” The Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2023,

4. “Gov. DeWine says derailed Norfolk Southern train not categorized as carrying high hazardous materials” News 5 Cleveland WEWS, 15 Feb. 2023,

5. “EPA says contaminated soil was covered to rebuild rail line”, 13 Feb. 2023,

6. “Footage showing a fiery axle 20 miles before East Palestine train derailment raises questions about alert timing” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 Feb. 2023,