Norfolk Southern did not have to blow up five of its train cars to release toxic chemicals into the environment following a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this month — and may have made the situation even worse for residents in doing so, experts say.
At a community meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Trent Conaway insisted that officials had to blow up five train cars carrying vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, saying it was their only option.
But Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials expert, says the railroad company had many options to mitigate the effects of the toxic chemicals its train 32N was carrying from Illinois to Pennsylvania — but chose to blow up the train cars to save money.
In doing so, a new federal lawsuit claims, the already under-fire railroad operator released a dangerous chemical agent banned under the Geneva Conventions into the air.
The suit says the Norfolk Southern train was carrying 1.1million pounds of vinyl chloride when it derailed on February 3 — more than double the amount released in the United States in an entire year.
Officials conducted a ‘controlled explosion’ of trains carrying vinyl chloride on February 6
Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials expert, said Norfolk Southern did not have to blow up the chemicals and only did so because it was the cheapest option
And when that vinyl chloride is burned, it releases phosgene, a chemical agent that contributed to the deaths of about 85,000 people in World War I.
Caggiano has said he ‘never heard of a railroad company actually detonating their own containers’ like Norfolk Southern did on February 6 in his nearly 40 years responding to train accidents and derailments,
‘I’m not saying it has never been done,’ he told the World Socialist Website. ‘But I have not seen in any case studies, and I’ve looked at pretty much every spill that has occurred, any incident involving rail cars.’
Caggiano served as a battalion chief of the Youngstown, Ohio Fire Department, before retiring two years ago after 39 years. He also sat on the state Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Technical Advisory Committee, which oversaw equipment and training of all of Ohio’s HazMat teams.
He explained that Norfolk Southern took ‘one car, which could have blown up and ruptured one or two more, and turned it into a for-sure thing.’
Alternative options to mitigate the risks of vinyl chloride, Caggiano said. ‘would have taken too long and cost them too much money.
‘If they had to put the fire out, they would still have to handle every one of those containers and its content as hazardous waste, all non-marketable, and they would have to have gotten rid of all that contamination,’ he said.
‘This way they don’t have contamination anymore,’ Caggiano continued. ‘It burned up and it spread over God knows how much.
‘They got off very cheap in my book,’ he said.
The former fire chief also noted that a black cloud released from the ‘controlled burn’ of the train cars ‘covered a very large area.
‘I got a picture from an airplane taking off from Pittsburgh, and there is this huge black spot in the middle of the clouds.’
Caggiano has previously compared the ‘controlled burn’ to nuking the town ‘with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.
‘The reason I said that is based on the guy’s video of the cloud and stuff precipitating out of the cloud,’ he explained on Wednesday. ‘It reminded me of disaster movies, where you see the nuclear winter. Everything is falling out of the clouds — that is what it reminded me of.
‘Yes, that’s what we did,’ he said, doubling down on his claims. ‘We didn’t use a nuclear weapon, but we did nuke them with chemicals.’
The freight train carrying dangerous chemicals was en route to Pennsylvania when it derailed
Residents in East Palestine, Ohio have said they are experiencing symptoms in the aftermath of the crash on February 3
Among the chemicals that were carried on Train 32N were vinyl chloride, a highly-volatile colorless gas produced for commercial uses; ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene.
The dangerous chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment
A train carrying a wide-variety of toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3.
Some of those chemicals have since been released into the air or soil, as residents worry about the long-term health effects.
Among the chemicals released from the derailment are:
Vinyl chloride — train operator Norfolk Southern has said that 10 cars were burning vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. It is a highly-volatile colorless gas used to create polyvinyl chloride, a plastic used in piping, cables, bottles and credit cards.
Symptoms of vinyl chloride exposure includes drowsiness, headaches and dizziness. More long-term effects may include cancer and liver damage.
Hydrogen chloride — In trying to mitigate the effects of vinyl chloride, officials conducted a controlled explosion of the train cars, releasing hydrogen chloride.
The chemical is irritating and corrosive to any tissue it gets in contact with, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
Brief exposure can cause throat irritation, but exposure at higher levels can result in rapid breathing, narrowing of the bronchioles, blue coloring of the skin, accumulation of fluid in the lungs and even death.
Phosgene — a chemical that was also released in the controlled explosion.
Like hydrogen chloride, phosgene is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.
Common initial symptoms include mild irritation of the eyes and throat, with some coughing choking, nausea, occasional vomiting, headache and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Phosgene poisoning may also cause respiratory and cardiovascular failure, low blood pressure and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Ethylhexyl acrylate — a chemical that was carried on the train
It is a known carcinogen, that can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes. Inhalation of the substance can also irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Isobutylene was also being transported on the train.
Inhalation of isobutylene can cause dizziness and drowsiness
Ethylene glycol mobobutyl was another substance being transported to Pennsylvania.
It can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and threat, as well as hematuria (or blood in the urine), nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that contact with ethylhexyl acrylate, a known carcinogen, can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes, while inhalation of the substance can irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Inhalation of isobutylene can also cause dizziness and drowsiness, while exposure to ethylene glycol mobobutyl ether can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and threat, as well as hematuria (or blood in the urine), nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.
Vinyl chloride is also a known carcinogen that can cause drowsiness, headaches and dizziness in the short term.
In the long term, exposure to vinyl chloride can cause liver damage.
Caggiano said people in the rural town are now already starting to experience some of these symptoms.
‘People are posting pictures of red rashes and red eyes,’ he said. ‘People that are having breathing problems have left there and gone someplace else. Everything has manifested itself there.
‘And the only way you are going to get rid of it is a deep cleaning of everything because when you burn anything that has organic chemicals in it, it leaves a film,’ he said. ‘Like in your kitchen when you use gas, touch your wall and it’s going to feel rough because there is film being deposited as you are burning.
‘So you might not find these chemicals in the air, but are we doing enough sampling to find them?’ Caggiano asked. ‘Because you might find them in this film that is all over the place.
‘Are we looking in the dirt in the places where this stuff fell out? I haven’t heard anything about that yet.
‘Now they are finding it in water,’ he said, adding that the community is expecting rain ‘so we might start finding it all over again. It’s going to wash out and reconstitute.
‘This is a farm community,’ Caggiano continued, ‘These people are going to be planting stuff soon, and some of the chemicals may have gotten into the soil.’
He also questioned whether state and federal officials are testing for dioxins, which are also known carcinogens, as they continue to reassure the public that the water is safe to drink
‘I question why there is such a rush to get everything open,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s saying “Everything is fine, the water is OK to drink and everything has been mitigated — and now we’re starting to hear, “Well you might want to drink bottled water. We may have found that Norfolk Southern swept some contaminated soil underneath the railroad tracks,”
‘Everything that I knew would be coming up, and they said would not be an issue, has now become an issue,’ he said, explaining: ‘These poor people in East Palestine are being, what we call mushroomed, kept in the dark and fed BS.
‘These are things that make you wonder: Do they know what they’re doing or are they keeping something from you? Are they trying to help the company mitigate large lawsuits?’
‘It needs to be handled, somebody has to step in and say, “Enough is enough, this has to be cleaned up,’ Caggiano concluded, noting that the company ‘just spent bllions on stock buybacks for the investors.
‘An old friend of mine said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,’ he noted. ‘I’m sure they have plenty to spread around.’
A representative for Norfolk Southern declined to comment.
The train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3
A worker is seen here as efforts to cleanup portions of the freight train were underway on February 9
Norfolk Southern has touted its efforts to mitigate the damage from the derailment
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday alleges that Norfolk Southern’s effort to clean up and mitigate the derailment site have made the situation even more dangerous for residents.
It claims Train 32N was carrying nearly 1,1million pounds of vinyl chloride when it overturned on February 3, a chemical that can mutate DNA and is not safe at any level of exposure.
Then when the train overturned, that massive amount of vinyl chloride — which is more than double the amount industrial emitters released in the United States — combined — in one year.
In 2021, the highest emitter of vinyl chloride in the United States discharged 6,834 pounds of vinyl chloride. The total for all emissions that year was 428,522.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw
‘In other words, Norfolk Southern discharged more cancer-causing vinyl chloride into the environment in the course of a week than all industrial emitters combined did in the course of a year,’ the suit says.
It also spilled around 688,000 pounds of polyvinyl, 273,394 pounds of ethylhexyl acrylate, 273,394 pounds of ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and 206,000 pounds of butyl acrylate.
‘Instead of properly containing and cleaning up its mess, and becoming responsible for a costly cleanup effort, Norfolk Southern had a different idea: “Set it on fire,”‘ the suit alleges.
It claims that the company ‘likely understood that properly containing and removing this volume [of] vinyl chloride would be incredibly expensive and time consuming’ and ‘knew or should have known that phosgene and other chemicals that would be emitted by setting fire to over 1million pounds of vinyl chloride were extremely toxic.’
Additionally, it says, ‘Norfolk Southern knew or should have known that setting fire to a 1,1million burn pit would cause individuals in nearby communities to be exposed, and injued by, extremely toxic chemicals.
‘Nevertheless, despite the extreme toxicity of vinyl chloride, phosgene and other chemicals resulting from Norfolk Southern’s conduct and the near certainty that innocent individuals would be exposed and injured, Norfolk Southern set fire to a 1.1million pound chemical burn pit anyway.’
The plaintiffs in the class action suit are seeking medical monitoring, injunctive and declaratory relief, punitive damages and damages related to injuries, emotional distress, loss of property value and increased risks of future illness.’
A representative for Norfolk Southern declined to comment on pending litigation.
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in the town
The train derailment on February 3 set off a fire that could be seen from miles away
Residents in and around East Palestine have complained of persistent coughs and animals turning up dead in the weeks since the derailment.
One couple even had to put down their indoor cat after they noticed he was getting sick in just the hours after the train derailment.
Documentation from the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Clinic shows that veterinarians there believe Leo’s condition ‘could be due to vinyl chloride cases.’
‘They said, well it must have been vinyl chloride poisoning that exacerbated his heart condition because they think that he had a genetic heart condition beforehand that was underlying that may not have been triggered without the vinyl chloride,’ Andrea Belden told FOX 8.
Meanwhile, Taylor Holzer is asking the public for funds to help his pet foxes he had to leave behind when he was forced to evacuate.
He said his rescued foxes are now clearly in respiratory distress with swollen glands, and the animals stuck outside have hurt themselves from freight of the sirens and smells, with one of the foxes breaking his leg as he tried to escape his enclosure.
The fundraiser has already netted over $71,000 for the foxes veterinary bills.
One family has even turned to GoFundMe to help them raise enough money to relocate from the town in the aftermath of the derailment.
Taylor Holzer is asking for the public’s help to fund his foxes’ medical bills after he was forced to leave them behind
He says they are suffering from swollen glands and are in respiratory distress
But officials insist there is nothing to worry about, as the railroad operator continues to tout its efforts to remedy the situation in East Palestine.
In a statement to DailyMail.com, a spokeswoman for the company said it has distributed over $1.5million in direct financial assistance to more than 1,000 families and a number of businesses to cover the cost of evacuation.
It is also reimbursing the East Palestine Fire Department $220,000 to replace Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses and provided more than 100 air purifiers for residents to use in their homes.
The company further announced on Tuesday that it is creating a $1million fund to help the community of some 4,700 people, and will expand how many residents can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs.
And speaking with WFMJ on Wednesday, Norfolk Southern Senior Director Will Harden — who is apparently on the scene — said the representatives of the company will continue to be in East Palestine until the cleanup is complete.
But when asked about the long-term health concerns, Harden diverted the question, only saying that the company is in the remediation phase and is working with local, state and federal agencies.
The state’s Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that the latest tests show water from five wells supplying the village’s drinking water are free from contaminants.
Still, the EPA is recommending testing for private water wells because they are closer to the surface after some 3,500 fish turned up dead in more than seven miles of streams.