Heath Hutcheson, Campus Carrier staff writer
On February 3rd, a freight train derailed just outside East Palestine, Ohio. The crash resulted in a fire spanning across the length of the derailed cars. As a result, a cloud of phosphine gas began to rise over the nearby village, causing a widespread chemical scare. The village had to promptly be evacuated due to the risk of death from the gas. Numerous residents were demanding answers about the situation.
The train was carrying multiple different chemicals used in a variety of household products. Alice Suroviec, dean of the school of mathematical and natural sciences, explained the specifics of the chemicals dumped from the train.
“We know for sure that there were five main chemicals that they were transporting, those being vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and butyl acrylate,” Suroviec said.
Each of these complex sounding chemicals are found in products used by most people on a nearly daily basis.
“Vinyl chloride is the main ingredient in polyvinyl chloride or PVC, like in PVC pipes, the ethylene glycol monobutyl is used in soaps, ethylhexyl acrylate is used in glues, isobutylene is used to make rubber dishwashing gloves, and butyl acrylate is used for both epoxy and gloves,” Suroviec said. “They were picking them up from the main factory and taking them to the plant where they are going to make the products.”
Dr. Suroviec also explained the full scope of the situation in regards to the potential harmful effects these chemicals might be having on the health of the residents of East Palestine.
“The one most people have been concerned about is the vinyl chloride,” Suroviec said. “The other chemicals don’t have as many health effects. They don’t get up into the air and they aren’t very toxic if they get into your drinking water. You obviously wouldn’t feel good if you ingested them, but the one people care about the most is the vinyl chloride because when it gets into the air it can cause lots of respiratory issues for people. It can make your lungs hurt. It can mess up your heart rhythm. It can also cause headaches, nausea or dizziness. When the vinyl chloride caught fire, it produced the phosphine gas which caused them to have to evacuate the town.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken control of the cleanup process, mandating that the rail company remediate the area with a federally approved plan rather than the original voluntary plan they had in place. A federal team has also opened a healthline for East Palestine residents who have complained of negative effects since returning to their homes, including dizziness, nausea and headaches.
President Joe Biden met with the EPA as well as the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company, then took to Instagram to give the public a summary of the conversation as well as assurances that the cleanup will be handled.
“Today, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the train company, Norfolk Southern, to pay for the clean-up and disposal of hazardous materials,” Biden said in his Instagram post. This is common sense. This is their mess. They should clean it up. The Department of Transportation has made clear to rail companies that their pattern of resisting safety regulations has got to change.”
Currently, the EPA is testing soil near the spill in order to ensure that the land does not continue to be contaminated, but as of now, the tracks have been cleaned up and the railways are on schedule. The main concern the issue of residents being able to return safely to their homes without negative effects, an issue that continues to be heavily monitored.