Ohio Train Derailment Led to Evacuations Over Toxic Chemical Exposure Concerns

Health and safety officials feared burning tankers filled with vinyl chloride could have exploded, resulting in mandatory evacuations near East Palestine.

A 50-car train derailment in Ohio has resulted in widespread evacuations for certain parts of the state, over concerns about the release of potentially toxic hazardous chemicals and fire risks.

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train consisting of 150 freight cars derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. According to reports, 50 freight cars left the tracks late Friday evening; about 20 of which carried vinyl chloride; a toxic chemical.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a press release on February 6, indicating that officials have initiated an investigation into the accident.

The Ohio train derailment led to the evacuation of about 1,900 people near the site, according to state officials, covering about a two-mile area around the crash. The evacuations came after some of the freight cars caught on fire, and some pressure release devices on the tankers had stopped working, posing the risk of a chemical explosion which could have laced the area with vinyl chloride chemicals, on top of the general risk of fire and explosions if the pressurized chemical tanks exploded.

In addition, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a press release on February 6, which warned that the vinyl chloride gas could cause death if inhaled and could also result in chemical burns on the skin and serious lung damage. The statement included evacuation details and contact numbers for displaced area residents to get assistance.

On Monday, Norfolk Southern announced it has come up with a way to safely vent the cars but could not predict when track service would resume. The delays due to rerouting would add at least 24 hours to shipments moving between Cleveland and the Northeast through Pittsburgh, the company warned.

Norfolk Southern also noted that it has established a Family Assistance center to help those directly impacted by the train derailment.

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Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC. It is a hard plastic resin used in pipes, wires, packaging and cable coatings.

While PVC itself has not been linked to an increased cancer risk, vinyl chloride, often a component of tobacco smoke, is linked to an increased risk of various liver cancers, lung cancers, brain cancer, lymphomas and leukemia.

The fires around the train derailment have been extinguished, and four of the five cars containing vinyl chloride have been removed from the wreckage as of Tuesday, public safety officials report. No one has reportedly been seriously injured by the train derailment itself or from toxic exposure, local and state health officials say.


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