Train Derailment in Columbus, Ohio Poses Health Concerns for Residents

A massive Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio on Wednesday, catching fire and unleashing potentially toxic fumes that may cause health problems or environmental issues for miles around the Columbus area. 

The train derailment occurred in Columbus, Ohio at about 2 a.m. Wednesday, as a two-engine, 98-car train was passing through the city.

Cars exploded and burst into flames, resulting in at least two confirmed injuries. Three of the cars that derailed carried ethanol, which fueled the inferno sparked by the accident.

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As concerns spread about the potential health or environmental impact of the crash, many area residents were evacuated from their homes and face uncertainty about what the long-term impact of the Columbus train crash may be.

Each of the three ethanol tank cars carried 30,000 gallons of the corn-based fuel. Residents said they could smell the ethanol from miles away.

While some experts have suggested that there are no health concerns, others are warning that the burning ethanol fuel can cause breathing problems for certain people, particularly those who already have respiratory problems such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, many area residents are concerned about what unknown dangers may result from the crash.

Another car in the derailed train was carrying styrene, which is far more dangerous and can cause neurological damage. However, reports suggest that car appeared to be undamaged in the accident.

About 100 residents living within a mile of the accident were evacuated to a temporary Red Cross shelter while investigators assessed possible safety concerns.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has dispatched an investigator to the scene to determine the cause of the accident.

This is the third U.S. train accident in the last month. On July 4 a Union Pacific coal train derailed in Glenview, Illinois, killing a couple in a car near the scene. On June 24, two Union Pacific trains collided in Oklahoma, killing three crew members and causing a diesel fire so intense that the two trains were welded together.

Earlier this year, a three-train accident in Porter County, Indiana caused similar health concerns when one train rear-ended a second, sending debris into a third passing by on a parallel track. Hazardous materials teams from the county investigated the accident and 50 homes were evacuated because there were hazardous materials cars involved in the train crash. It was later determined that the cars, which included several ethanol tankers, were empty.

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