Train derails in Ohio, spills toxic chemicals

Zoe Sissac, Opinion Editor

Almost three weeks ago, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The freight train, which was traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania, carried 150 carloads of toxic chemicals, according to CNN. Of the 38 damaged cars, five contained 115,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which the EPA classifies as a cancer-causing agent. 

The damage to the five train cars indicated that this colorless, highly flammable gas spilled into the atmosphere. 

Vinyl chloride is typically used to create PVC pipes, electrical wires and even dishware. 

Vinyl chloride was not the only gas released in the Feb. 3 crash, but the toxicity of this chemical captured the attention of authorities. Immediately after the derailment, first responders, along with the EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) worked to contain the released chemicals. 

Kevin Baer, a ULM professor in environmental toxicology, studied the effects gases like vinyl chloride have on the environment. His research includes assessing environmental contaminants in bodies of water. 

“Most vinyl chloride that is spilled in soil or surface water, like lakes, ponds and rivers evaporates into the air quickly,” Baer said. “However, people who live near or work in factories that use and produce vinyl chloride have the most exposure.” 

Emergency responders evacuated the surrounding residences of East Palestine, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes. Even now, some residents still have not returned to East Palestine due to concerns about environmental contamination. 

“Nobody here knows what the effects of this are going to be 10 or 20 years from now. How are our grandkids going to be affected? What kind of birth defects are going to happen?” Larry Berdine, a resident of East Palestine, said. 

Residents are already experiencing side effects of the chemicals released in the derailment, according to NBC. Physicians in the area have seen an influx of patients coping with side effects like chemical bronchitis and dizziness. 

Wildlife in the area has also been affected since the toxic chemicals have materialized in local streams and rivers. Officials estimated that the toxic chemicals poisoned over 43,000 fish and animals.