On February 3rd, around fifty cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, carrying vinyl chloride, a toxic substance. Crews then released the chemicals from the derailed train cars In a controlled release as they were in danger of exploding.
This led to the evacuation of nearby neighborhoods in Ohio and Pennsylvania due to the health risks from the fumes, although residents have since been allowed to return.
Officials stated that carefully releasing the hazardous materials prevented a potential “catastrophic tanker failure” that could have generated an immense explosion, dispersing fumes and pieces of metal over a wide area.
Norfolk Southern Railway had issued a statement saying that the controlled breach was successful. They stated that they would continue to monitor the air quality with the EPA.
Sil Caggiano, a specialist in hazardous materials talked with WKBN and expressed his concern over the situation and urged local residents to get a health check-up, remarking, “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”
The US EPA has also confirmed the presence of three additional chemicals, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene in the cars involved in the incident as reported by WKBN.
Caggiano highlighted to WKBN the potential dangers of ethylhexyl acrylate, a carcinogen that can cause both skin and eye irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath when inhaled. At the same time, isobutylene can lead to dizziness and drowsiness when breathed in.
According to WKBM, West Virginia American Water is taking extra precautions by installing a secondary intake on the Guyandotte River in case it is needed to switch to an alternate water source. However, it noted that raw water had remained the same at its Ohio River intake.
Caggiano told the outlet he was surprised by the decision to let residents return home before testing for the presence of these chemicals, warning of the potential long-term effects, such as cancer clusters and contaminated well water. He also advised anyone in the East Palestine area to get a health check-up and have their health documented for future reference.
Residents living in East Palestine and nearby towns have reported that animals have been dropping dead. Taylor Holzer, who runs the Parker Dairy outside the evacuation zone with his family and keeps foxes, told WKBN that one of his foxes started coughing and had diarrhea before dying quickly. His other foxes have been enduring various health issues, such as puffy faces and gastrointestinal problems. Holzer is certain that the chemicals in the air are not safe, and this is what is causing the animals to become sick.
CBS Pittsburgh declared that hundreds of fish have been found dead in Leslie Run, located around five miles from the derailment site. The EPA has acknowledged the fatalities but has stated that the drinking water is still safe. Amanda Breshears, living 10 miles from East Palestine, said that after the derailment, she went to feed her hens and rooster, only to find them all dead.
She had been filming them before and noticed that as soon as the burn started, the animals began to slow down and eventually die. She does not believe the air quality is safe and has experienced watery eyes after being outside for a short time.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has made a statement to ensure the safety of Ohio’s food supply and note that the risk to livestock is low. They have recommended that anyone who notices any strange behavior in their livestock or pets should contact their vet for further guidance.