Plumes of smoke, questions about dead animals, concerns about drinking water. The train derailment in Ohio and the subsequent burning of some of the dangerous chemicals They have many locals wondering: How concerned should they be?
It has been more than a week since about 50 cars of a freight train were derailed and destroyed on the outskirts of eastern Palestine near the Pennsylvania state line, apparently due to a mechanical problem with the axle on one car. .
no one was injured in that accident. But concerns about air quality and dangerous chemicals aboard the train caused some city residents to leave, and officials later ordered evacuations of the surrounding area as fears of a potential explosion grew. from the smoking wreck.
Officials seeking to avoid the danger of an uncontrolled explosion chose intentionally releasing and burning vinyl chloride of five of the cars, causing flames and black smoke to billow again into the sky.
THE shocking scene it caused people to question the possible health impacts on residents in the area and beyond, even as authorities claimed they were doing everything they could to keep people safe.
In the days that followed, the residents’ concerns and questions only grew and were amplified, in part, by theincorrect or false information that spreads on the internet.
Here are some questions to understand what happened and what could happen.
1- Is controlled combustion of materials dangerous?
Vinyl chloride is associated with an increased risk of some cancers, and officials warned at the time that its combustion would release two worrying gases: hydrochloric acid and phosgene, which was weaponized during World War I. world.
Environmental officials say the monitors detected airborne toxins on site during the controlled fire and which officials kept people away until it dissipated.
They also said ongoing air monitoring conducted by rail and government agencies, including inside nearly 400 homes, has found no dangerous levels in the area since residents were allowed to return. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shared the reports.
2- What effects could there be in the long term?
Even in communities outside of eastern Palestine, some residents say they are concerned about the long-term effects of even low-grade exposure to contaminants from the crash site. The city scheduled a town hall meeting at the local high school Wednesday, where it listened to questions from residents whose concerns include lingering odors, how to ensure cleanliness, and what to do with pets and livestock that appear sick or have died after the derailment. .
The risk to such animals is low, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which has recommended people contact a local veterinarian if they have concerns about the health of their livestock or pets. The department has not received any official reports of livestock or pet illnesses or deaths directly related to the crash, although that shows it would require an autopsy and lab work, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said.
The director of that state’s Department of Health, Bruce Vanderhoff, warned at a news conference Tuesday that residents are concerned about the persistent odors or headaches from derailment they should know that they can be caused by levels of pollutants in the air well below what is not safe.
The derailment also raised concerns about the safety of the rail system, although federal data shows that accidents of this magnitude involving hazardous materials are very rare. Trains passed through eastern Palestine again shortly after the evacuation order was lifted.
3What danger is there of contaminating water and soil?
Contaminants from the derailed train cars leaked into some waterways and were toxic to fish, but officials said the area’s drinking water remained protected.
In addition to vinyl chloride, at least three other substances — butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether — have been released into the air, soil or water, according to an EPA letter notifying rail operator Norfolk Southern your potential liability for cleaning costs.
Norfolk Southern response included tasks to remove contaminants from the soil surface and nearby streamsin addition to air quality monitoring, soil sampling, and residential water well assessments, according to its preliminary remediation plan.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that the spill affected more than 7 miles of waterways and killed about 3,500 fish.
A patch of contaminants including butyl acrylate formed in the Ohio River in the first few days after the derailment and flowed slowly Tuesday as it approached Huntington, West Virginia, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
The amounts of contaminants found so far they do not pose a risk to cities They depend on the river for their drinking water and the patch continues to thin out as it progresses, the state EPA said.
In response, some water companies have closed outlets or increased treatment processes as a precaution.
4- Is the information circulating on social networks on the subject credible?
As with any developing situation, misinformation and exaggerations about the derailment have spread on the internet in recent days.
Some social media users, for example, have falsely claimed that drinking water is contaminated throughout the Ohio River Basin, despite the fact that many areas in the multi-state region are unaffected by the release of the chemicals. .
Images of dark, ominous clouds also circulated, claiming they showed eastern Palestine after the fire, despite those images appearing on the internet in November 2022.
As the information continues to spread, disinformation experts stress that social media users should be careful before sharing unverified claims.
5- What could have caused the accident?
Investigators have examined the train car that started the derailment and have surveillance video from a home showing what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of the derailment. overheating error moments before the derailment, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday. His preliminary report is expected in two weeks.
However, the train operator Norfolk Southern and the NTSB they have not publicly answered one of the main questions on the derailment of 3 February: when exactly the crew was alerted to a mechanical problem with the axle of a railway carriage, the suspected cause and whether they reacted adequately.
A roadside fault detector alerted the crew to a mechanical problem just before the derailment and emergency braking began, a National Transportation Safety Board member said that weekend.
Safety video from two companies in Salem, Ohio shows the underside of a car glowing over a shaft that appears to be on fire, indicating the train may have traveled more than 20 miles with that breakdown before derailing, he said. reported the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. . The NTSB says it also reviews that video.
Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.