Ohio Train Derailment and the Devastating Effects


Brylie Kepner, Staff Writer

On February 3rd of this year, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. While luckily no one was injured or killed in the 38-car pile-up, the environment was strongly affected soon after. This dispatched an uproar as people within a large radius of the accident site were inflicted by the carcinogenichaving the potential to cause cancer -compounds that were exposed.


When February 6th rolled around, a black cloud of hydrogen gas, phosgene, and other toxic combustion products chemicals that are formed when a material burns that are usually cancerous, flammable, or have other hazards -hung overtop of East Palestine. This was a result of Norfolk Southern burning off vinyl chloride from unstable railcars. Desmog writes an article called Norfolk Southern CEO Makes Obligatory Congressional Appearance But Doesn’t  Commit to Rail Safety Changes states that the Norfolk Southern company said, “this controlled burn was necessary because the temperature in one of the tanks was rising and there was risk of an explosion that likely would have sent shrapnel flying in a mile radius and exposed the town to vinyl chloride. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine corroborated this report, saying he was given ‘two bad options’ for the outcome in East Palestine.” These chemicals from the controlled burning still injured the environment in a way that may not be repaired for a long time.


Result of both the burning and derailment, an article written by earth.org, entitled Ohio Train Derailment, interviews Sierra Lynn. In the article, she states, “‘I have asthma, and when I went outside the night of the release, I felt it immediately’… she reported having to use her inhaler over twenty times in one day.” People were obstructively influenced by the chemicals swarming the air. Not only was Lynn, a resident who lives over 10 miles away from the accident, impacted, but others shared similar stories of how they noticed unusual side effects as well. Many reports surfaced about the awful smell of fumes and the chemical exposure. Ramifications included migraines, burning eyes, sore throats, dizziness, and parents even told how their children were covered in rashes. Moreover, as people noticed these changes within themselves, they also noticed what was happening to the environment around them.


A devastating occurrence was pets being killed by the chemical exposure, causing an even stronger point of anger among those inflicted. Other animals within the environment vigorously suffered because of the vinyl chloride from the unstable cars. Those tasked with investigating noted that all the animals they saw appeared to be dead or dying, especially the ones in the water, leading people to believe this is going to be a long-lasting problem.


Mainly, people are concerned about seeing all the dead aquatic creatures and how those toxins that got into the water and killed those critters could potentially make its way into the groundwater. Local waterways have experienced a tremendous amount of loss from aquatic insects and fish to mollusks and amphibians, offsetting the ecosystem. Firsthand viewers saw the waterways littered with dead fish, giving off a sickly sweet odor. Sulfur Run and Leslie Runtwo streams, 3.5 miles long and 8.5 miles long, found in Ohio near where the train derailed -taking the brunt of the blow, being impacted the most when it comes to lifeforms being killed.


When testing the water, scientists found that there were elevated levels of tetraphene and chrysene which persist in water and soil, also being carcinogenic compounds. On the day of February 19th, Cincinnati city and the northern part of Kentucky decided to temporarily halt consuming water from the Ohio River because of the hazardous chemicals. However, at the time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulated drinking water to be safe for consumption, finding no alarming levels of pollution. Yet residents do not want to risk it, deciding against drinking the water. Soon after the refusal, bottled water centers can commonly be found throughout areas where groundwater comes from the river; these centers exist for people to donate bottled water to those within these areas.


By February 21st, people believed that concerns were finally starting to be addressed when the Ohio Department of Health opened a clinic for those experiencing symptoms due to chemical exposure. Residents even hope that Norfolk Southern will be held accountable for their damaging actions. Also on the 21st, the EPA decided to aid in cleaning up all impacted areas to give support to the inflicted by ordering a multi-billion dollar corporation.


For the duration of the month of February, Norfolk Southern did not receive any backlash from higher powers yet. They’ve assisted those impacted in the one-mile evacuation zone, causing those beyond that who were also affected to get frustrated. This company has even been reported to intimidate people to suppress media coverage about the environmental effects of the derailed train. In the same article by earth.org mentioned previously, a person they interviewed confessed, “‘These contractors caught me walking along the road and saw my camera. They thought I was a journalist. They said if I was media, I would be arrested by the national guard stationed up the road…I had to convince them I wasn’t a journalist.’” Similar attempts by Norfolk Southern have been made to cover up the incident, including charging someone they said was speaking about the event too loudly.


People hoped for the company to get charged for all the damage done and were glad when March rolled around. Tuesday, March 14th, Ohio finally sued Norfolk Southern because of this disaster. The Washington Post writes an article over this matter, saying that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost “announced the federal lawsuit in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, saying his state ‘shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence’” (Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic train derailment).


Whilst lies told by Norfolk Southern are brought to light, the people can hope that they get repercussions for the harm done. For now, areas surrounding the crash site have to work on the environment and what they can do to help. Concerns about how long the environmental effects will last have yet to be determined as these harmful compounds have a possibility to remain for long periods of time and the environment will have a lot of repairing needed to try to go back to the way it was before.