Plumes of smoke, questions about dead animals, concerns about drinking water. A train derailment in Ohio and the subsequent burning of some of the dangerous chemicals has people wondering: How concerned should they be?
It’s been over a week since some 50 freight train cars derailed in a fiery mess on the outskirts of East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania state line, apparently due to a mechanical problem with a car’s axle. . No one was injured in that shipwreck. But concerns about air quality and dangerous chemicals aboard the train prompted some village residents to leave, and authorities later ordered an evacuation of the immediate area as fears grew about a possible debris explosion. steaming.
Officials seeking to avoid the danger of a wild explosion opted to intentionally release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five train carriages, causing flames and black smoke to billow into the sky again. The jarring scene left people questioning the potential health impacts on residents in the area and beyond, even as authorities maintained they were doing everything they could to protect people.
In the days since then, concerns and questions from residents have only abounded, amplified, in part, by misinformation being spread online.
More about what we know:
Vinyl chloride is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer, and officials warned at the time that burning it would release two worrying gases: hydrogen chloride and phosgene, the latter of which was used as a weapon in World War I. .
Environmental officials say monitors detected airborne toxins at the site during the controlled burn and that officials kept people away until they dissipated. They say continuous air monitoring conducted for the railway and by government agencies, including testing inside nearly 400 homes, has not detected dangerous levels in the area since residents were allowed to return. The US Environmental Protection Agency has shared the results of air monitoring online.
Even in communities beyond eastern Palestine, some residents say they are concerned about the long-term effects of even low-grade exposure to contaminants from the site. The town has scheduled a town hall at the local high school Wednesday night to hear questions from residents, whose concerns include lingering odors, how to ensure accountability for cleanliness, and what to do about pets and livestock that appear sick or dead since then. the derailment
The risk to such animals is low, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which recommended that people contact a local veterinarian if they have any concerns about the health of their livestock or pets. The department has not received any official reports of livestock or pet illnesses or deaths directly related to the incident, although making such a determination would require a necropsy and laboratory work, the Agriculture Department said.
Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff warned at a news conference Tuesday that residents who were concerned about lingering odors or headaches from the derailment should be aware that these may be caused by levels of contaminants in the air that are so far below it is unsafe.
The derailment also raised questions about the safety of the railroad, although federal data shows that accidents involving hazardous materials on this scale are very rare. The trains passed through eastern Palestine again shortly after the evacuation order was lifted.
soil and water
Contaminants from the wrecked cars spilled into some waterways and were toxic to fish, but authorities said drinking water in the area remained protected.
In addition to vinyl chloride, at least three other substances — butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl — were released into the air, soil, or water, according to a letter from the US Environmental Protection Agency. notifying rail operator Norfolk Southern of its potential liability for cleanup costs.
Norfolk Southern’s response has included efforts to remove spilled contaminants from surface soil and nearby streams, as well as air quality monitoring, soil sampling and surveys of residential water wells, according to its plan. preliminary remediation.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates the spill affected more than 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) of streams and killed about 3,500 fish, mostly small fish such as minnows and darts.
A plume of contaminants including butyl acrylate formed in the Ohio River in the first days after the derailment and was slowly flowing Tuesday, approaching Huntington, West Virginia, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
The amounts of contaminants found so far do not pose a risk to cities that rely on the river for drinking water, and the plume continues to dilute as it progresses, the state EPA said.
In response, some water companies closed their intakes or increased treatment processes as a precaution.
Claims on social networks
As with any developing situation, misinformation and hyperbole about the derailment have spread online in recent days.
Social media users, for example, have falsely claimed that drinking water is contaminated throughout the Ohio River Basin, when many areas in the multi-state region are unaffected by chemical releases.
Images of dark, ominous clouds have also spread with claims that they showed eastern Palestine after burning, despite the images appearing online in November 2022.
As information continues to develop, disinformation experts stress that people should be careful before sharing unverified claims.
Cause of the accident
Investigators have examined the railcar that started the derailment and have home surveillance video showing “what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of failure from overheating moments before the derailment,” the National Board of Derailments said Tuesday. Transportation Security. His preliminary report is expected in two weeks.
Yet rail operator Norfolk Southern and the NTSB have not publicly answered one of the big questions about the February 3 derailment: exactly when the crew was alerted to a mechanical problem with a railcar axle, the suspected cause, and if they responded appropriately. ?
A road defect detector alerted the crew to a mechanical problem “shortly before the derailment” and emergency braking was initiated, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said that weekend.
Security video from two companies in Salem, Ohio shows the underside of a train car glowing brightly from an apparently burning axle, indicating the train could have traveled more than 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) with that failure before the derailment, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The NTSB says it is reviewing that video.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Tuesday that Norfolk Southern had mishandled the disaster from the start and that its actions hampered the response by state and local agencies. He also said the company was unwilling to seek alternatives to intentionally releasing and burning the five cars filled with vinyl chloride.
“Prioritizing an arbitrary and accelerated schedule to reopen the rail line injected unnecessary risk and created confusion,” Shapiro said in a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw. He left a message seeking comment with the company.
Source: VOA Español