Residents evacuated from an Ohio village where a freight train derailed before huge clouds of toxic gasses were released in an explosion fear they could still be in danger nearly two weeks later, despite authorities telling them it’s safe to return home.
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash in East Palestine at about 9pm on Friday, February 3.
Houses were evacuated after vinyl chloride was slowly released from five of those cars. Authorities then ignited the gases for a ‘controlled release’ of the highly flammable, toxic chemicals in a controlled environment, creating a dark plume of smoke.
Officials warned the controlled burn would send phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air. Phosgene is a highly toxic, colorless gas with a strong odor that can cause vomiting and breathing trouble and was used as a weapon in World War I.
Despite the threat, safety officials insisted it is safe for residents who were evacuated to return to their homes just days later.
A drone photo shows the massive plumes of smoke after officials carried out a ‘controlled release’ of the chemicals on board the rail cars by burning them. Homes were evacuated for several days over the incident, but residents fear there could still be a health risk
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash in East Palestine at about 9pm on Friday, February 3
Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist and former fire department chief, said he was ‘surprised’ residents were allowed to return home so quickly before all of their homes were tested
Authorities who responded to the incident, which caused a leak of dangerous chemicals, wore hazmat suits
Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist and former fire department chief, said he was ‘surprised’ residents were allowed to return home so quickly before all of their homes were tested.
‘I would’ve far rather they did all the testing [first],’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of what ifs, and we’re going to be looking at this thing 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the line and wondering, ‘Gee, cancer clusters could pop up, you know, well water could go bad.’
He added: ‘We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.’
Several residents have opted to stay away from East Palestine over claims they haven’t been given sufficient information or safety assurances.
Some said a chemical smell still lingers in the area and claim they’ve had symptoms which include trouble breathing and burning eyes. Dead fish were spotted in waterways around the scene after the incident.
Four lawsuits have now been filed against the rail operator, Norfolk Southern, including one which alleges the derailment was caused by negligence
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine points to a map of East Palestine, Ohio that indicates the area that was been evacuated as a result of Norfolk Southern train derailmen
Federal investigators have said the Norfolk Southern train crew received a warning about a mechanical problem shortly before an axle failed and caused the Ohio derailment
Four lawsuits have now been filed against the rail operator, Norfolk Southern, including one which alleges the derailment was caused by negligence. That suit is demanding medical monitoring and more, alleging that residents were subject to toxic fumes and substances.
Dramatic pictures and footage of the incident showed a huge fire after the derailment, which left railcars and debris strewn across the area.
Homes were evacuated and officials undertook the ‘controlled release’ of the vinyl chloride inside the rail cars on Monday, over fears it could explode.
When authorities burned the chemicals, a massive plume of black smoke was released over East Palestine. Residents were told they could return on Wednesday
James Justice, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said a network of air station monitors inside and outside the evacuation zone was collecting samples and that none of their readings found anything to be concerned about.
Some residents who were evacuated following the crash were sheltered at an American Red Cross evacuation support center
Some residents have decided not to return to their homes even thought the evacuation order was lifted, as they fear the chemical leak could still pose a health risk
‘We want to make sure that’s not going to change,’ he said.
Justice said the agency is still working with experts to determine safe levels for various gasses before reopening the evacuation zone. The incident response team did not specify what substances they are monitoring.
The gasses that experts suspect are in the area are heavier than air, which means they could be sitting in low-lying areas if not completely dissipated.
National Guard members wearing protective gear are taking readings inside homes, basements and businesses.
The EPA also sampled nearby rivers to determine whether there has been any water contamination and is awaiting results.
In West Virginia, a water utility waws enhancing its water treatment process on Monday as a precaution following the derailment.
West Virginia American Water said it’s also going to install a secondary intake on the Guyandotte River in case there’s a need to switch to an alternate water source. The utility noted that there hasn’t been any change in raw water at its Ohio River intake.
‘The health and safety of our customers is a priority, and there are currently no drinking water advisories in place for customers,’ the company said in a statement.
Neighbors gather outside a home in East Palestine, Pa, on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 as residents were allowed back in their homes after a derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train
This photo provided by the Ohio National Guard, ONG 52nd Civil Support Team members prepare to enter an incident area to assess remaining hazards with a lightweight inflatable decontamination system (LIDS) in East Palestine, Ohio, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023
Federal investigators have said the Norfolk Southern train crew received a warning about a mechanical problem shortly before an axle failed and caused the Ohio derailment.
Video footage of the train about 20 miles before the derailment site showed sparks and flames coming from its wheels.
The National Transport Safety Board said it has reviewed the footage, which appears to show ‘preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the railcar axles’.
The train’s crew reportedly received an alert from a wayside defect detector shortly before the derailment, an NTSB official said.
Rail unions believe the industry has gotten riskier in recent years after widespread job cuts left workers spread thin.
‘It raises all kinds of questions,’ Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told Fox, when he was asked whether hazardous materials are too dangerous to transport by rail.
‘We’ve seen it up close and personal the last few days,’ DeWine said. ‘This is a big, big deal.’
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