On February 3rd, an industrial train carrying hazardous chemicals and combustible materials derailed in the town of East Palestine, Ohio, covering the whole town in smoke. Running parallel to the town’s highway, the train derailed 38 of its cars and damaged another 12. Upon the collision, a huge fire erupted, flooding authorities to the scene – they drew out evacuation zones and tried to maneuver a controlled release of the toxic fumes so the rest of the materials within the cars did not catch flame. Residents on both Ohio and Pennsylvania bordering sides were asked to evacuate, raising alarms of a possible explosion. So what does this mean for East Palestine? 

Following the derailment: schools were shut down, roads were closed, the evacuation order was extended to those in a one-to-two mile radius of East Palestine, and Norfolk Southern, the operators of the train, donated 25,000 dollars to the American Red Cross for shelter set up. The governor's office announced that residents could return home once the air quality measured below concern. So far the East Palestine Water Treatment Plant has not seen any adverse effects in the water supply, but that’s not to say they eventually won’t. Residents of that area have been reporting complaints of headaches and feeling ill, why is that? Let’s take a look.

Upon the EPA’s investigation of the train cars, they stated that 20 of the 38 cars were carrying hazardous materials – vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ethers, and upon it’s derailment these chemicals were released into the air, surface soil, and surface waters in the surrounding areas spanning outward. These chemicals, if ingested for a prolonged period of time, can cause life threatening illnesses and respiratory issues. The EPA measured the contaminants in the air of 390 local homes, and found no detection of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride, or a ‘level of concern.’ But this doesn’t mean that the air quality can decrease exponentially over time.  

The West Virginia Subsidiary of American Water provides water from the Ohio River to the 24 bordering and surrounding states – about half a million people. According to the EPA, they have not seen a decline in quality, but they have detected two chemicals within the Ohio River tributaries and are working diligently to filter out said contaminants. To obtain precaution, the company installed a secondary intake on the Guyandotte River as an alternate source, and enhanced their current treatment processes.

An investigation has started involving the N.T.S.B. and the Environmental Protection Agency. The investigation included examining each tank car, the trains event data recorder, and any local surveillance videos. According to one nearby residency’s video, the cause appeared to be a bearing failure of a wheel which caused brake system issues. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is working on a two-stage clean up, starting with the removal of materials from the site itself, then developing a remediation plan. A preliminary report is expected to be published by the end of the month [February].