It has been a month now since a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed just outside East Palestine, Ohio. Following the derailment, residents of the community were evacuated and emergency services breached five of the derailed cars in order to conduct a “controlled combustion” of around 250,000 gallons of liquid vinyl chloride*, a hazardous material. Due to the damage that occurred during the derailment to rail cars containing toxic chemicals, coupled with the controlled combustion of vinyl chloride in several train cars, several toxic chemicals were released into the air and nearby waterways. Over the past several weeks, some residents of the community where the derailment took place have been diagnosed with chemical exposure bronchitis, among other ailments. There has also been a substantial outcry from researchers, environmental experts and other professionals for the U.S. federal government to conduct extensive testing of the air and groundwater in that region for toxic chemicals.
Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced they have ordered rail company Norfolk Southern to test the area for dioxins, a dangerous and persistent class of pollutants created when plastic is burned**. Though EPA officials have said the previous monitoring for related chemicals around East Palestine suggests a “low probability” of dioxin contamination, they have ordered Norfolk Southern to test the area for dioxins due to concerns from the community. The EPA will oversee the testing and “direct the company to conduct immediate clean up if contaminants from the derailment are found at levels that jeopardize people’s health.”
*Vinyl chloride (vinyl chloride monomer, VCM) was the primary chemical of concern in the derailment. The precursor to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), one of the most ubiquitous plastics, vinyl chloride has been an important material throughout modern industrial history. Today, vinyl chloride (VCM) is primarily used in the production of PVC. As a polymer PVC, vinyl chloride is stable, easily stored and safe. But as a monomer, it is extremely toxic. Vinyl chloride is one of the class of industrial hazards known as VOCs. (source)
**Dioxins are produced when burning wood and fossil fuels (including coal), municipal waste, cigarettes, tires and plastics. Combustion releases chlorine stored in those substances, which reacts with other compounds to form dioxins. The pollutants are of particular concern when plastic is burned because chlorine is a key element of plastics, including PVC and vinyl chloride. Dioxins are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and immune system damage. (source)
Norfolk Southern Will Pay Residents To Relocate During Toxic Train Derailment Cleanup
According to the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA), Norfolk Southern agreed to pay for residents affected by an eastern Ohio train derailment to temporarily relocate while cleanup efforts continue. The order follows demandsfrom the community demanding that Norfolk Southern take responsibility for the derailment. River Valley Organizing, a community nonprofit, issued a list of five demands for the company and government officials, one of which included temporary relocation for residents who felt unsafe in the village.
EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct all cleanup efforts associated with the derailment on Feb. 21. The efforts included identifying and cleaning contaminated water and soil, reimburse the EPA for cleaning costs, pay for the EPA’s work and participate in public meetings, according to the press release.