On February 3rd, 2023, a train carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Vinyl chloride is an ingredient in PVC, and a known brain, lung, liver, and blood carcinogen, as well as being flammable and toxic. The train, from Norfolk Southern, caused a pileup of cars the equivalent of more than half of the train’s length. Over a fifth of these cars were carrying hazardous materials.
The wreckage caught fire and continued to burn the entire weekend, and all nearby residents were ordered to evacuate immediately. Authorities decided that a “controlled burn” was the best option, essentially burning the fuel until it put itself out, and trying to stop it from spreading. On Monday, February 6th, the authorities implemented this action. As this was happening, the vapors and smoke travelled through the air to many surrounding areas, and people were reporting smelling and tasting the chemical in the air, as well as headaches caused by the chemical fire. The smoke could even be seen from a plane. Toxic waste seeped into the ground and waterways, causing immediate damage to the ecosystem.
On February 10th, authorities declared that there was no immediate danger in the air or waterways, and that residents could return to their homes safely. Of course, many people still do not feel comfortable returning, especially after the controlled burn looked anything but controlled.
Events like this occur more regularly than is known to the public, as politicians and local authorities try their best to keep the incidents under wraps, as it is well known how detrimental to the environment these events are. This Ohio train car explosion is especially concerning because of the particular kind of toxic chemical it was carrying, as well as how long the fire was allowed to burn. While many people have been, and will continue to be, affected, but the environment and ecosystems will show signs of damage for decades to come, with some issues not showing up until much further down the road.