A train carrying highly hazardous material derailed and crashed in East Palestine, a small town in Ohio, approximately 80 miles away from Lake Erie, on February 3, 2023. Not only did the train ignite a fire that covered the area in smoke, but it also spewed toxic chemicals into the environment.
Afraid of a major explosion, authorities ordered residents to evacuate to a nearby safe zone while they worked to neutralize the burning cargo inside the cars.
After evacuation orders were lifted, residents returned to the town only to find dead animals and strange odors, leaving many to question whether or not the town is actually safe. One couple, who lives just a few miles from the crash, found hundreds of dead fish, belly up, in the local tributary. Others have reported dead dogs, chickens, and foxes in the area. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, maintains that the water and air around the incident site are safe.
Those who have safety concerns can also opt for free air quality readings from the Norfolk Southern Railway Company. They will also be reimbursing those who incurred costs during evacuation. So far, they have already received more than 300 requests for air quality testing in homes, according to Peggy Clark, the Columbiana County EMA.
To prevent further explosions, authorities released five large tankers of vinyl chloride, a combustible substance that’s typically used in the manufacturing of plastic. However, the chemical is also associated with an increased risk of cancer, according to the United States National Cancer Institute.
The crew was able to successfully drain the hazardous chemicals into a trench, which they then ignited to remove the substances. Several loud booms were heard by those in the area as it sent up a massive black cloud into the air. Not only that but it also released massive amounts of hydrogen chloride and phosgene gas into the atmosphere, the latter of which can lead to breathing difficulties and vomiting.
Five days after the train derailed in the small time, officials told residents they could return to their homes after lifting evacuation orders.
One hazardous materials expert told media outlets that he was shocked that residents were able to return home so soon following the incident. He believes that there may be clusters of cancer diagnoses seen in locals five to twenty years down the line. He has urged them to get regular checkups of their current health status in case of possible implications in the future.