By: Paige Fluent
On Friday, February 3rd, a large Norfolk South train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire in the small village of East Palestine, Ohio. East Palestine is only an hour and thirty minutes away from Cleveland. In fear of a major explosion, authorities mandated evacuations and planned a “controlled release” of the chemicals.
The chemical the train was carrying was a chemical called vinyl chloride, which is a known carcinogen and linked to nervous and respiratory system issues. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause a range of symptoms like headaches, however with high exposure, a rare form of liver cancer can result. Moreover, when the gas is burned as it was, vinyl chloride releases two other harmful chemicals: hydrogen chloride and phosgene.
After the “controlled release”, residents were permitted to return to their homes. Shortly thereafter, the trains began to again roll through the small town. The EPA, Governor DeWine, and other regulatory investigaters and service people have been on site throughout the incident. It is known that the chemicals entered the groundwater system, resulting in the death of many fish, and traveling from local streams as far as the Ohio River. The EPA and Departments of Health have been testing both water and air quality in resident homes and businesses. o To date the tests seem acceptable, however, the well water in outlying areas surrounding the Village has yet to be tested. It was amazing to see the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, many other non-profit organizations, and random individuals have come to the Village’s aid with temporary housing, food and hot meals, gas cards, and bottled water. Thankfully, Norfolk Southern has pledged that they will clean up the crash site, assist residents, and make the Village whole again. Even the NTSB is calling for increased regulation and oversight of rail traffic, especially those carrying hazardous materials. This incident is in its infancy as far as investigation, clean up, and damages… so only time will tell what the full impact will be on this small village and its’ residents.