Long Term Health Risks from Ohio Train Accident Pose Concerns For Area Residents

Some residents have reported being diagnosed with severe or chemical bronchitis, resulting in the need for steroids, inhalers or even oxygen.

Amid growing reports of bronchitis and other respiratory problems among area residents, concerns are rising about the potential long-term health effects from the Norfolk Southern train accident near East Palestine, Ohio.

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train consisting of 150 freight cars derailed near the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania, causing 50 freight cars to leave the track, including several filled with vinyl chloride.

Following fears that the burning, pressurized vinyl chloride tanker cars might explode, pressure was released from the tanks and the fires were put out. However, since the incident, investigators have identified several other potentially toxic chemicals that may have been released as a result of the train derailment as well, including ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene.

While the chemicals have been linked to various cancers and other health problems, experts admit they currently do not know what may be the long-term health risk from the Ohio train accident, leaving many questions and concerns among local residents.

Exposures may vary wildly both from the amounts of toxic chemicals, and what individuals may have been exposed to. The long-term health risks may also be impacted by whether the chemicals were inhaled, consumed or absorbed through the skin, meaning health experts are on the look out for a number of different symptoms that may be caused by the Ohio train accident.

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The political, industrial and regulatory fallout of the train accident may end up being expansive, but it is the long-term health effects for East Palestine, Ohio residents that are being an increasing concern, amid continuing questions about the safety of the local water supply.

Just days after the accident, residents began reporting severe coughing, headaches and respiratory problems, resulting in some being diagnosed with bronchitis. Employers nearby have increasing reports of employees calling out sick and being diagnosed with “chemical bronchitis,” leading to the need for steroids and inhalers. At least one resident has been placed on oxygen, according to various media reports.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a response team from its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is now interviewing residents about their health concerns and symptoms they have developed since the accident.

Norfolk-Southern Ohio Train Accident Inquiry

Recently, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation joined a growing number of voices calling for an examination of the railroad industry’s safety practices when transporting hazardous materials. In a letter sent to the CEOs of the seven largest railroad companies in the U.S., she requested they turn over all detailed information and documents on those practices by March 17.

“Over the past five years, the Class I railroads have cut their workforce by nearly one third, shuttered railyards where railcars are traditionally inspected, and are running longer and heavier trains. While some of these changes may be an improvement, they also come with new risks that current federal regulations may not consider,” Cantwell wrote in a press release. “Thousands of trains carrying hazardous materials, like the one that derailed in Ohio, travel through communities throughout the nation each day. Every railroad must reexamine its hazardous materials safety practices to better protect its employees, the environment, and American families and reaffirm safety as a top priority.”

However, many say Norfolk Southern itself needs to be held accountable for the accident and potential adverse health effects.

On February 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a notice to Norfolk Southern, announcing it was considering to make the company pay for the cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Since then, EPA officials have said in live interviews that they will definitely require Norfolk Southern to pay for those costs.

Just days later after the update, on February 16, another Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals partially derailed just outside of Detroit, Michigan. About 30 cars derailed near Van Buren Township, but no one was injured and the only hazardous materials car attached to the train, carrying liquid chlorine, was not affected by the derailment. However, it has raised even more questions about the company’s safety practices.

On February 19, Norfolk Southern published a statement from its CEO, Alan Shaw, who says his company will compensate residents for the damages done and help clean up the toxic contamination.


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