What We Know About the Train Derailment in Ohio
Norfolk Southern Railroad submitted its remedial action plan on Monday, detailing its response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and what it plans to do next.
In the plan, submitted to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the company said it will install wells to monitor groundwater and sample soil in the Ohio village.
Residents were allowed to return home last week after about 50 train cars, 10 of which carried hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery wreck on Feb. 3. Vinyl chloride, a gas contained in five of the cars, was released and burned to prevent explosion, causing toxic fumes to be released in the area.
The village will host a town hall about the derailment on Wednesday. Here’s what we know about the situation right now.
Where is East Palestine, Ohio?
The village of East Palestine, Ohio, is about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about 21 miles south of Youngstown, Ohio. It is part of Columbiana County.
What caused the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio?
A mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the fiery derailment of about 50 freight cars, 10 of which contained hazardous materials, in East Palestine on Feb. 3, federal investigators said. Five of the cars contained vinyl chloride.
The train was carrying a variety of products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, according to rail operator Norfolk Southern and the National Transportation Safety Board.
What is vinyl chloride?
Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas used to make make polyvinyl chloride, the hard plastic resin in plastic products, like credit cards, car parts, PVC pipe and more.
The highest levels of vinyl chloride are often found in the air near factories that produce it, and workers at these factories can be exposed to the gas. The general population can also be exposed to vinyl chloride through inhalation, and, if a water supply is contaminated, it can enter household air when water is used, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Vinyl chloride exposure is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer as well as brain and lung cancers. Burning it sends phosgene, a toxic gas that was used as a weapon during World War I, and hydrogen chloride into the air.
What chemicals were on the train in Ohio?
The rail cars contained vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and isobutylene, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter to Norfolk Southern on Friday.
A controlled release of toxic chemicals happened Feb. 6
The vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars were unstable and the cars were at risk of exploding, which could have launched deadly shrapnel into the air. To prevent an explosion, Norfolk Southern executed a controlled release of the vinyl chloride around 3:30 p.m. Feb. 6.
The gas was slowly released into a trough that was then set on fire, creating a large plume above East Palestine. Flames and black smoke could be seen above the village until late in the afternoon. The EPA said it is continuing to monitor the air quality.
Was anyone injured in East Palestine?
No injuries to the train crew, first responders or community members have been reported, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Are East Palestine residents still evacuated?
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, East Palestine fire chief and incident commander Keith Drabick and other officials from both states said Wednesday that East Palestine residents could safely return home.
DeWine and Shapiro ordered the immediate evacuation of hundreds of residents within a 1-mile by 2-mile area surrounding East Palestine on Feb. 6, when Norfolk Southern burned the rail cars’ chemicals, releasing hazardous fumes into the air.
“You need to leave, you just need to leave. This is a matter of life and death,” DeWine said at a news conference.
Residents who stayed in the area and inhaled the fumes faced death or serious injuries, including skin burns and lung damage. It is believed that most residents left the area before the evacuation, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency said. Law enforcement from both Ohio and Pennsylvania went door-to-door to ensure any remaining residents left before the controlled release.
East Palestine officials are testing the water supply for chemicals
Norfolk Southern contractors visited homes over the weekend that were identified as having at-risk drinking water wells, the East Palestine Police Department said.
Runoff from the derailment impacted Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, LittleBeaver Creek and the Ohio River, the Ohio EPA said. Contractors with Norfolk Southern installed a dam and water bypass at Sulphur Run to prevent further contamination of downstream waters on Feb. 10.
Why was a reporter arrested in East Palestine?
NewsNation correspondent Evan Lambert was arrested for trespassing on Wednesday in East Palestine while attending DeWine’s press conference about the train derailment. In a statement, East Palestine police said they asked Lambert to stop his live report because he was being “loud,” which resulted in an argument. Police said they arrested Lambert after he refused to leave the area.
The broadcast reporter was held in custody for about five hours before he was released, NewsNation reported.
DeWine said at the end of the press conference that he did not authorize the arrest. East Palestine police officers and officers with two state agencies were involved, according to the police department’s release.
Lambert, who is based in Washington, D.C., could still face charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, NewsNation said.
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