Introduction: What Happened in Ohio, USA?
On the night of 3rd February 2023, in the United States of America, a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals, derailed near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. Out of 150 train cars 38 cars derailed which effected another 12. The derailment of the cars caused majority to explode releasing a large number of toxic substances in the air.
The nearby town of East Palestine with around 5000 residents were immediately evacuated under the threat of potential hazard due to burning of those chemicals.
How did the Train Derailment in Ohio Happen?
As of the writing of this article, the derailment is still being investigated by the relevant US authorities. However, major sources report that the derailment occurred due to the malfunction of the axel– a rod that connects two train cars to each other. This malfunction caused the cars to go off the track which lead to a chain event effecting 50 cars altogether in an explosion.
However, as efforts were being made to control the fires, there was a risk of further explosion of 5 cars containing vinyl chloride that had not yet burned. Vinyl Chloride being highly flammable and being in the vicinity of burning chemicals would be more susceptible to another explosion. Hence, the crew decided to leak the chemical out into small pits and burn them. But, before this could be done, the remaining townsfolk were given mandatory orders to evacuate before the crew could burn the remaining vinyl chloride.
What Were the Hazardous Chemicals in the Spill?
The hazardous chemicals being carried by the train included many toxic and flammable substances like vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.
These chemicals were particularly of concern as they form more hazardous chemicals on burning that can cause severe impacts on health of the residents nearby in East Palestine neighborhood. An area spreading as far as a 30 mile radius from the explosion site has been adversely effected and the chemical spill has contaminated the environment and ecosystems raising concerns for long term damage.
A second derailment, on 4th March 2023– almost a month after the first, also contained PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) pellets however this time there were no reports of any spill.
Currently there are concerns being voiced out regarding the effects of the spill being observed after residents have returned to their homes after evacuation. This is alarming even though the officials had deemed it safe for the people to return.
Also check out: What Is Environmental Toxicology And What Are Its Branches?
Impacts of the Hazardous Chemical Spill:
- Vinyl chloride being highly flammable, forms hydrogen chloride gas on burning. This gas is linked to causing a rare form of liver cancer as well as lung cancer and leukemia.
- The explosion and subsequent decision to release and burn the remaining vinyl chloride after the derailment lead to a widespread cloud of toxic particles and particulate matter to engulf nearby neighborhood and farms in Ohio.
- A toxic haze or cloud could be seen even a week after the spill that lead to reports of nausea, coughing, headaches and eye irritation among many residents. This is because the chemicals contained many chlorinated chemicals which upon burning create ‘dioxins‘ that are extremely toxic and can cause such effects. The most toxic kind of Dioxin is TCDD– 2,3,7,8 Tetrechlorodibenxo p-dioxin that was formed during the spill. Moreover, the houses and properties are completely smothered by the black particulate matter present in the toxic black cloud leading to concerns of health and safety.
- Currently the air is still polluted due to this spill as residents complain of eye, skin and respiratory irritation just 2 days of returning back to their homes.
- Pets and animals like fish and chickens are turning up dead in many homes and farms as reports speak of widespread contamination of water and underground leaching of chemicals. One resident reported 6 of his chickens dying just a day after the chemical release.
- Water contamination of local creeks and water bodies is also occurring as there are video evidence as well as accounts of fish floating dead on the water surface in the vicinity of the spill.
- There are extreme concerns of this vast amount of chemicals leaching underground and contaminating local waterbodies which has also effected the drinking water supply in the area. Also read: Water Pollution- Sources, Effects and Solutions
The Ohio train derailment chemical spill is the latest environmental tragedy brought on by human negligence and poor maintenance that has effected thousands of people and the numbers continue to increase. The impacts of the spill have been felt widespread and there is concern over the persistence of these chemicals in the land, air and water of East Palestine, Ohio.
As are the grave consequences of environmental disasters and accidents, experts say that the full effects of the spill may not be evident for decades after. This is a huge concern as wildlife is dying and people are falling seriously ill, being hospitalized suddenly despite not having any history of ailment prior to the spill.
To know more about how toxins can enter human/animal body and cause harm, check out Environmental Toxicology Flowchart – Exposure to Excretion.
It is very important that the air be tested for the levels of dioxins and other toxic chemicals present in the air to determine the appropriate safety measures and to address the safety concerns of the residents of East Palestine.
You may also like to read: 10 Major Environmental Disasters in The World and What is a Healthy Environment? Why is it important?
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