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By now most people have heard that there was a massive chemical spill when a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, which is located in eastern Ohio, on the border with Pennsylvania, , northwest of Pittsburg. A couple of weeks after the spill, the federal government hasn't said much at all about it, apparently downplaying the risk to both human health and the environment.
Residents are reporting huge fish kills and other animal fatalities, particularly birds. One woman discovered her entire flock of backyard chickens had died overnight. Another reported his pet fox were ill and one died.
On Friday, February 3, 2023, approximately 50 train cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Palestine, Ohio. The chemicals apparently burst into flame. Ten of the cars were filled with butyl acrylate and vinyl chloride. In addition to being toxic, there were also combustible liquids. Responders were concerned that there could be a large explosion.
On-scene authorities decided to conduct a 'controlled release' of the toxic chemicals. Residents of East Palestine were later asked to evacuate to a radius of 1 mile.
Then, on Monday, February 6, 2023 crews conducted the "controlled release" creating a huge a large cloud of black smoke. Local residents described it as looking like a mushroom cloud.
The evacuation order was lifted on Wednesday, February 8, 2023.
On February 10, 2023, Norfolk Southern sent a letter about it to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency
Subsequently, people who have returned have described a variety of health symptoms, including a burning sensation in their eyes, skin irritation, nausea, headaches, animal deaths, fish kills and a strong lingering odor.
You can see a PBS video about the disaster here.
Chemicals reported in the derailed train cars include:
Chemicals produced and released in the "controlled release" include:
Here is the EPA list of chemicals the train carried.
The release has taken 2 forms: gaseous airborne emissions, clearly seen in the dark chemical clouds and materials spilled onto the ground directly or precipitated from the gas and returning to earth. The most like mode of spread of the latter is by waterways. See the graphic at right, which shows the watershed and flow of surface waters from the area.
Of course, airborne contaminants will be carried by prevailing winds, which tend to flow from west to east, variations in the jet stream and high and low pressure areas, storms passing through which can carry the contaminants in a different direction entirely.
IIn both water and air, the farther it moves from the spill, the more it will be diluted. It is impossible, at present to know where or if a point of dilution will occur at which the risk drops to an effective zero. Certainly, we can say that the closer living organisms are to the source, the greater the risk to their health.
Oddly, this spill occurs few months after the movie White Noise was released. This movie is about an industrial accident from a train derailment that was shot in Ohio. The movie was released on Netflix in 2022.
As noted above, there are the chemicals contained in the train cars which were released and also new compounds formed by the chemical reaction of the spilled materials, included those produced in the fires. Hopefully, authorities are sampling the air and water closest, to determine what these compounds are and how they are migrating in soil, air or surface and ground waters.
The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg has been receiving criticism for saying nothing at first and little since about the spill.
But Buttigieg made no mention of the Ohio train derailment while speaking at a conference this morning but did find the time to say that there are too many white people who work construction.
There's a lot of finger-pointing going on: Buttigieg accusing the Trump admin of relaxing train safety rules regarding breaks and notifications. State officials accusing the railroad of negligence and not accurately reporting the chemicals involved.
This is the EPA page about the spill.
East Palestine, OH 44413
Many references are incorporated into the text above, by the links to the sources. Below are additional references.