A train derailment in Ohio has some people concerned about health and safety issues


Teia Nash

A drawn image of the Ohio State Flag.

On February 3rd, 2023, a train in East Palestine, Ohio, derailed from the train tracks, and later ended up setting on fire. The train cars carried hazardous chemicals, one of which was a chemical known as vinyl chloride. As the giant disaster continues to unfold and the news spreads further and further in the media, more people in the area evacuate and tell their stories about the effects everything has had on them and their families.

At around 9pm on February 3rd, the train derailed, and from it erupted a massive fire. The train itself was a Norfolk Southern freight train, and out of the 141 cars, 50 ended up falling off of the train tracks. An investigation led by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the true cause of the derailment to be a mechanical problem on one of the cars’ axles. Pictures of the train reveal a devastating scene. The fires on the freight train posed a major risk for explosion, and a 1-mile radius was set around the accident that was deemed unsafe. Governor Mike DeWine said an explosion could send shrapnel pieces flying out for about a mile’s radius. Hundreds of people were evacuated. And, to try and avoid an explosion, authorities started to do controlled burns on the chemicals inside of a few of the train cars.

As mentioned before, one of the main hazardous chemicals in the cars was the chemical known as vinyl chloride. This chemical is known for increasing the risk of cancer in any case of exposure, which raised a lot of alarms for people in the area about the health and safety risks of the chemical releasing into the atmosphere.

There is another big problem here, and one user on twitter explains into a lot of detail as to why burning the chemical might’ve been the worst thing the authorities could’ve done: “… but the worst [stuff] happens when it catches fire… when it’s over, it decomposes into carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and phosgene… hydrogen chloride (HCI) is a gas which, upon contact with water [vapors] in the air, turns into hydrochloric acid… exposure to it will corrode tissue; even short exposure can lead to blindness, severe burns and mouth, throat and stomach damage… phosgene (COCL2)… historically it’s been used by armies in WW1 and 2 as poison has. It’s dangerous to humans… and is primarily known for causing pulmonary edemas, hypoxia and, in high exposure, death after 2-3 days…” Their thread contains a lot of information on the dangers of the chemicals and the living status of the general area.

A tweet by @sam_fukin_nella.

There is a massive amount of outrage on social media over the incident, as many people are wondering why the news hasn’t been on the front headlines that much at all. Videos have been going around showing authorities arresting news reporters trying to cover the incident, which makes some speculate if the disaster is being downplayed by the government. One twitter post reads: “Reminder: they’re arresting reporters in East Palestine, OH that are trying to report on the train derailment.”

A tweet by @ninaturner.

Another twitter post: “Ohio: Dead fish and cattle being reported as far as 100 miles away from the site. Journalists covering the story have been arrested. What [is] going on?”

A tweet by @realstewpeters.

While there is no sure answer here, these videos could make it hard to believe that a good effort is going into containing and decontaminating the environment.

Another big part of the disaster is the effect that all of the chemicals have had on wildlife and other animals, as well as the environment in general. The twitter poster from before didn’t post any evidence of their claims, however there is some truth to them. As said by NBC News, a total of about 3,500 fish and a few chickens have died since the accident, and one lady told an NBC affiliate, “Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek.” The chemicals that are spilling into the soil, the atmosphere, and the water, are all hazardous enough to kill wildlife. Vinyl chloride, among all of the other dangerous chemicals, can cause a lot of effects to take place when they interact with other things.

…authorities started to do controlled burns on the chemicals inside of a few of the train cars.

The issuing of the evacuation order was done on Sunday, February 5th, by Governor DeWine. Residents were then told about three days later that it was safe to return home. Plenty of air samples were taken in and around the area, including inside houses, and found that safety risks were very low. Air quality is not a major concern coming into play for the authorities. Some people, especially East Palestine residents, are still worried about their health and the risks. How could a giant leak of hazardous chemicals that is still slowly burning be good for anyone in the area? If it’s still killing wildlife and causing some people to have a persistent cough (NBC), people might have a right to worry.

Some people online are calling this burning of the chemicals a “new Chernobyl”, and while it might not be effective to label it as such, these hazardous chemicals are doing some serious damage. Animals are dying, people are feeling the effects, and safety and health risks are still a concern for some. An increase in the chance of getting cancer is so prevalent with the chemicals being released, that it is one of the major concerns still being talked about. Others say we might not understand the impact or the consequences this has on the earth until a few years down the road, when people start to really feel the health effects. The only thing we really know is that the derailment was caused by a lack of management, and that the controlled release and burning of the chemicals was done by authorities to prevent an explosion and to further ensure no one dies from the incident.