The train derailment in Ohio should be bigger news than it is, as fish continue to die in a spreading radius around the fire but people are told it’s safe to go home.
Late on February 3rd, a freight train belonging to Norfolk Southern derailed in the middle of East Palestine, Ohio, a town of about 4700 people. Five of the 38 cars that came off the tracks contained vinyl chloride, a toxic and flammable gas used in making plastic products. Norfolk chose to limit the damage by conducting a controlled burn. They were no confirmed deaths from the train derailment.
Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen, with no safe tolerance for human contact. Burning it changed it to hydrogen chloride and phosphene, two less harmful substances. Two days after the controlled burn, East Palestine residents were told it is safe to return home. State health officials analyzed air quality samples and found the results “below the level of concern.”
Environmental advocates are alarmed by how quickly that decision was made after the train derailment.
“The typical approach is to monitor the air, water, and soil to establish the environmental fate of the spill,” said Michael Koehler, one such expert. “This is not a once-and-done monitoring but should be done long-term to establish the contaminants transport in the soil, aquifers, and waterways.”
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, dead fish have been found in 7.5 miles of streams around the area, and a plume of contamination is traveling down the Ohio River. State officials say it is diluting as it travels and will not taint community water supplies. There are reports on social media of dead poultry and cattle, but officials say they have not received reports of such.
Before 2016, this train would have had to register as carrying hazardous flammable materials and would have had to use a higher quality braking system, but the Trump administration repealed both requirements in 2017.