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Home » Residents Prohibited From Returning to Homes Near Ohio Train Derailment Site

Residents Prohibited From Returning to Homes Near Ohio Train Derailment Site

07 February 2023, Tuesday
Residents of East Palestine, Ohio remain unable to return to their homes following a controlled release on Monday of a hazardous substance from vehicles involved in a train accident that happened three days ago, Mayor Trent Conaway announced at a press conference in the evening.

The process of draining vinyl chloride, a chemical thought to be unstable and have the potential to explode, has started from five rail cars belonging to Norfolk Southern. At around 4:30 PM ET, Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern reported that shaped charges would be used to make a small puncture in each rail car, releasing the vinyl chloride into a trench which would be set alight with flares to burn it away.

As of 7 p.m., the fire was under control and a small blaze remained in the pit, as reported at the news conference. Local officials asked people to stay away from the area and stated that the evacuation zone of 1 mile was still in effect around the crash site. The evacuation zone will be re-evaluated on Tuesday morning, but there is currently no timeline for when the residents may return.

A team from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that they will observe the air and water quality of the area in which the train derailed on Friday. This incident caused toxic fumes to be released into the atmosphere, as well as lethal shrapnel to be distributed in a radius of up to one mile. It was also mentioned that the fires left over from the derailment will eventually die out without any intervention from crews.

A particular rail car had been of great concern to authorities due to safety valves that were not working correctly, thus not allowing it to release the vinyl chloride it contained, as previously noted by a Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency official and a Norfolk Southern representative in conversation with.

To ensure a controlled release, the evacuation zone surrounding the derailment site was extended to two states, per Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro have both ordered mandatory evacuations for a 1-mile-by-2-mile area surrounding East Palestine, a village with a population of roughly 5,000 people located near the state border. This evacuation occurred shortly after the massive fire had started on Friday night.

Eric Whiting, a resident in East Palestine, recounts the incident saying that an hour after the crash the police came to his door and asked for the family to evacuate, informing them that there was still uncertainty about the situation and to still evacuate.

East Palestine Police Department evacuated their communications center Monday morning due to safety risks to the area caused by the fire. Despite this, they assured citizens that 911 services would remain unaffected. Mayor Conaway had expressed his pride in the town's citizens, who responded swiftly when officials went door-to-door asking them to leave the area. This happened in response to mounting fears about air and water quality, for which officials had begged the public to depart for several days.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reported that a local state of emergency in the East Palestine City School District is the reason for the closure of schools for the remainder of the week. Additionally, shortly before the derailment of about 10 cars carrying hazardous materials, an alarm was heard alerting the crew to a mechanical issue. Despite the activation of an emergency brake, the cars still derailed.

Whiting, an East Palestine resident, revealed that he and his family of five had left the premises without taking anything with them on Friday when they were told to evacuate. He further shared his experience with, explaining how he had heard the train suddenly halt before hearing sirens from emergency vehicles headed in their direction.

The family vacationed over the weekend, but when they returned home on Saturday night, officers of law enforcement knocked on their door Sunday morning, urging them to evacuate due to the potential of an explosion. The family quickly mustered some belongings - including their canine companion - and drove to a hotel located twenty minutes away, where they planned to stay for a few nights.

Whiting and his family, evacuated from their home in East Palestine, Ohio, due to an ongoing natural gas leak, are now staying in a cheap motel. Taking his laptop out to work has been difficult, as Whiting is worried about providing enough food for his family and how much he will be reimbursed for the motel room. Concern for the environmental impact of the leak on East Palestine has been an added worry for Whiting.

Fire Chief Keith Drabick reported a significant shift in vinyl chloride levels on Sunday. According to the Ohio Department of Health, inhaling substantial amounts of this chemical can lead to unconsciousness or death if not provided with ample ventilation.

If contaminated water is present, vinyl chloride may enter into a household through activities such as showering, cooking, and laundering. This chemical, used in the production of PVC, can be a risk factor for several types of cancer such as those of the brain, lungs, liver and blood. Furthermore, at room temperature, this compound is easily combustible and can cause dizziness, sleepiness, and headaches. As of Sunday, the air and water quality have remained stable, however the EPA has warned that circumstances can shift quickly.

A mechanical failure warning was issued prior to the wreck, according to NTSB Member Michael Graham on Sunday. Of the more than 100 cars carrying freight on the train, approximately 10 of them were loaded with hazardous materials, and these were the cars that derailed.

The NTSB is still in the process of investigating the potential defect, as well as the response from the train crew, which consisted of an engineer, a conductor, and a conductor trainee. They are requesting records from Norfolk Southern pertaining to track inspections, locomotive and railcar inspections and maintenance, train crew records and qualifications. All of this is in order to gain more insight into the incident.

Transportation by rail is regarded as the safest way to transport hazardous materials in the United States, as stated by the Federal Railroad Administration of the US Department of Transportation.

The Administration highlighted the generally high safety level of shipping hazardous materials by rail, noting that the majority of hazardous materials shipments occur successfully and without incident.
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