EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A Norfolk Southern train that was carrying hazardous materials derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, which caused the release of more than 1 million gallons of toxic chemicals into the surrounding area’s soil, air and water.
Testing is continuing and many concerns still linger about what effects this material will have on the water, land and agriculture of this area, that is near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
As a result of the derailment, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, on Mar. 14, filed a 58-count lawsuit in federal court that is seeking to hold Norfolk Southern financially responsible and for “recklessly endangering” the state’s natural resources and the health of its residents.
“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence” Yost said in a release. “The fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.”
The lawsuit also notes that this derailment is part of the company’s increasing rate of accidents, which it notes in the past 10 years has risen 80 percent, with approximately 20 Norfolk Southern derailments involving chemical discharges since 2015.
The lawsuit adds that, “The derailment was entirely avoidable and the direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates.”
Closely following the announcement of this lawsuit, Norfolk Southern issued a statement that it is seeking to provide long-term funds for the benefit of East Palestine.
“Every day since the derailment, our goal has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities,” Norfolk Southern said in its statement. “We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.”
“We are also listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment,” Norfolk Southern added. “Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now … To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.”
The company also noted that it has heard, “the community’s interest in programs that protect drinking water over the long term. We are prepared to work with stakeholders toward that goal as well.”
Yost has noted that in working with Norfolk Southern that the company has made pledges to right this situation, but also adds that this recent lawsuit, “will make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps its word.”
Testing and meat inspection
According to reports, about 50 cars of the 149 on the freight train derailed on Feb. 3, of these railcars about 11 were transporting hazardous material. Five cars were carrying vinyl chloride and several cars were carrying ethyl acrylate and isobutylene, considered to be highly toxic and maybe carcinogenic, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Feb. 6, the evacuation zone near the derailment was expanded to within 2 miles by authorities. Responders began a controlled burn and release of vinyl chloride in five of the railcars that continued for several hours. This caused a huge contaminant-filled black smoke plume to drift over the area, which raised concerns about the harmful effects this material could cause to residents and the environment.
On Feb. 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a letter to Norfolk Southern, noted that vinyl chloride and several other toxins had been detected in creek samples near the site. By Feb. 17, it was reported by authorities that this plume had dissipated.
As of Mar. 13, the Ohio EPA reports that a total of about 6.06 million gallons of liquid wastewater has been removed from the area, along with a pile of approximately 26,800 tons of excavated soil waiting for removal and 3,080 tons that has been taken away from the area.
The agency adds that water samples taken on Feb. 28, “show no chemicals associated with the derailment in either the raw or treated water … all of the chemicals detected in the treated water are well below drinking water standards set by the U.S. EPA.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has also released a new fact sheet that details the safety of Ohio’s meat supply following the derailment. The department notes that since the incident, more than 2,750 animals have been inspected, and of this 2,750, no animals were flagged for symptoms of chemical exposure. Also out of this 2,750, 35 dispositions were performed and five of the 35 were condemned, and of these five, none were condemned because of chemical exposure symptoms.
The ODA reports that animals that have been in contact with high and sudden doses of vinyl chloride may have symptoms like coughing, runny nose, sneezing, labored breathing, excessive salivation, and potentially reddened and runny eyes.