Fear spreads over Ohio train derailment air pollution

Reports are flooding in about an ‘overwhelming chemical smell’ in the atmosphere following this month’s major environmental disaster. 

On Friday 3rd February, a 150-car freight train derailed close to the town of East Palestine, Ohio, leading to the death of thousands of fishes across an area of more than seven miles around the crash site. Scores of other animals remains have since been found.

brown rail train

 Despite official statements from authorities that residents could safely return home as the clean up commenced, fear is rising that the air now contains toxic chemicals that could prove harmful to humans and other species. Some have reported painful coughs developing in the past few days. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overseeing the recovery operation, including a controlled burn, has already warned about lingering odours, while trying to reassure people this is due to small levels of byproducts from vinyl chloride, which are too low to be considered hazardous but nevertheless smell pungently. 

‘Air monitoring since the fire went out has not detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time,’ said a spokesperson for the EPA. However, a letter issued to Norfolk Southern, which operates the train line, warned that chemicals could ‘continue to be released to the air, surface soils, and surface waters’. The implications of this are unclear. 

Despite these statements, a story in US publication Environmental Health News has specified the full list of chemicals involved. A number of these are considered carcinogenic or associated with respiratory health problems.

These include butyl acrylate, which causes permanent lung damage if inhaled, and isobutylene, which irritates eyes, throat and nose and can directly lead to coma or death. A number of other substances are associated with health hazards if absorbed through the skin or swallowed as a liquid. 

Meanwhile, Greenpeace is calling on this to trigger a new era of chemical safety regulations to ensure this type of incident doesn’t happen again. 

Top image: Johannes Plenio

Video: (C) CBS


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1 year ago

Scary! This is some really serious issue.

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