By Emily Hanson || Arts and Leisure Editor
On February 3rd, 2023, a freight train operated by Norfolk Southern, carrying many harmful chemicals, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Thirty-eight of the train’s cars derailed, and a resulting fire damaged twelve others. Residents of East Palestine are concerned for their safety and health following the accident, which released these toxic chemicals into the air and surrounding water supply.
Vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, two of the chemicals onboard, have caused the most concern. Vinyl chloride is a colorless, odorless gas, which is a known carcinogen; it can induce harmful symptoms depending on the exposure time and amount. It has been linked to an increased risk of blood, lung, and brain cancer. Crews conducted a controlled release of vinyl chloride following the incident to eliminate the risk of train cars exploding, which caused black smoke to rise throughout the town. Photos of this occurrence have gone viral on social media, inspiring further anxiety and concern. Butyl acrylate is a colorless liquid with a fruitlike odor. Increased exposure to this chemical can lead to irritation in the nose and eyes and vomiting, and an entire load of it was lost in the crash. Burning of both of these chemicals can cause even further health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency has since cleared the public to return to the area, but it’s unclear how exactly people can come into contact with these chemicals in the air.
Almost a month later, many East Palestine residents have complained of experiencing headaches, rashes, nausea, and trouble breathing. People have been experiencing symptoms without knowing exactly what for, or from which chemical. The EPA has conducted air quality tests and none of the results have exceeded the limits of air quality standards. Recent tests of the Ohio River water have not contained butyl acrylate, but according to US Senator Sherrod Brown, the residents have the right to be skeptical. Individual properties should conduct testing on their own water supply, air, and soil, he recommends.
As a direct result of the derailment, over three thousand fish were killed in surrounding waterways, but officials have claimed these chemicals to be contained. Dams have been installed to prevent further runoff, and residents have been told the tap water is safe to drink, but most people don’t believe it. They are unsure of why they would be feeling symptoms and getting sick if there is nothing in the air or in the water.
The Ohio Department of Health has opened a clinic to help East Palestine residents recover from the incident, and recovery is ongoing. The crash site is still being cleared, and the monitoring of the air and water quality continues.
Emily Hanson is the Arts and Leisure Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.