Train Derails in Ohio: Residents Not Yet Allowed to Return to Homes Near Site of Burning Train Derailment in Eastern Palestine
EASTERN PALESTINE, Ohio — Residents of the Ohio village in eastern Palestine are still unable to return home after the controlled release Monday of a toxic chemical from cars that were part of a train derailment there. three days, Mayor Trent Conaway said at an evening news conference.
An operation to drain vinyl chloride – a chemical that officials said was unstable and could explode – from five Norfolk Southern train cars began just after 4:30 p.m. ET.
Norfolk Southern’s Scott Deutsch had earlier said small shaped charges would be used to punch a small hole in each carriage. The vinyl chloride would then spill into a trench where flares would ignite and burn it.
As of 7 p.m., the flames have been reduced and a small fire continues in the pit, Deutsch said at the press conference.
It’s “still an ongoing event, so we’re asking everyone to stay out,” the mayor said. “We have to wait for the fires to go out.”
A 1-mile evacuation zone around the train crash site remains in place, Conaway said. Authorities will reassess the area on Tuesday morning, he added. “We really don’t have a timeline right now” for residents to return, he said.
A team from the Environmental Protection Agency will monitor air and water quality in the area, officials said.
The remaining fires will self-extinguish and will not be extinguished by crews, Deutsch said.
The five carriages of the train, which derailed in a violent crash on Friday, were hurling toxic fumes into the air and firing deadly shrapnel up to a mile away, officials said earlier.
One railcar in particular had been the focus of concern because its faulty safety valves prevented the railcar from releasing the vinyl chloride inside, a Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency official told CNN on Monday. and a Norfolk Southern spokesperson.
Prior to the controlled release, the evacuation zone surrounding the site of the fiery derailment spanned two states, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said.
DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro had ordered evacuations for a 1-by-2-mile area surrounding East Palestine, a village of about 5,000 people near the Pennsylvania border, DeWine said.
This follows evacuations that took place just after the massive blaze started on Friday evening.
According to East Palestine resident Eric Whiting, police knocked on his door about an hour after the derailment and asked the family to evacuate.
“They told me they didn’t know anything yet, but they just needed us to evacuate,” Whiting told CNN.
Authorities pleaded with residents for several days to leave the area as fears over air and water quality grew.
Mayor Conaway said Monday he was “proud of the citizens” because everyone passed out when officials went door to door and there were no arrests.
Here is the latest news from the field:
Police Communications Center: The scene was so dangerous Monday morning that the Eastern Palestine Police Department evacuated a communications center for security reasons, a spokesperson told CNN by phone Monday. “The 911 service will not be affected,” the department said online.
Schools are closed: The school district in East Palestine City will be closed for the rest of the week, citing the local state of emergency.
A mechanical problem was detected: The crew was alerted by an alarm shortly before the derailment “indicating a mechanical problem”, said a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Emergency braking was applied, but about ten wagons carrying hazardous materials derailed.
Evacuated family staying in hotel, awaiting news
Whiting, the East Palestine resident, said he, his wife and three children took nothing with them when they were evacuated on Friday.
“We live right next to the train tracks so we heard the train come to an abrupt stop. But just as I got dressed to check what was going on I heard emergency vehicles rushing towards us “, Whiting told CNN on Monday.
The family returned home on Saturday and spent the night there. But law enforcement knocked on the door on Sunday morning telling them to leave due to the risk of an explosion.
So they packed clothes for a few nights and, with their dog, headed to a hotel 20 minutes away.
“It’s hard. I’m in a cheap motel because I’m scared how much they’ll be willing to pay me back. It’s hard to get my laptop out (to work) and concentrate when I’m worried about food for the family throughout the day,” Whiting said.
He is also worried about the environmental impact on eastern Palestine, he said.
Breathing in high levels of chemicals is potentially deadly
A “drastic change” was detected on Sunday related to vinyl chloride, said fire chief Keith Drabick.
Breathing in high levels of vinyl chloride can cause someone to pass out or die if they don’t get fresh air, the Ohio Department of Health said.
The synthetic chemical used to make PVC burns easily at room temperature; may cause dizziness, drowsiness and headache; and has been linked to an increased risk of liver, brain, lung and blood cancer.
“If a water supply is contaminated, vinyl chloride can enter household air when the water is used for showering, cooking, or laundry,” says the National Cancer Institute.
While air and water quality remained stable on Sunday, “things can change at any time,” warned James Justice of the EPA’s emergency response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Vinyl chloride in water or soil evaporates quickly if it is near the surface. Vinyl chloride in the air breaks down within days, causing the formation of several other chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide.”
The agency also warns that liquid vinyl chloride touching the skin will numb it and produce redness and blistering.
The crew received a mechanical failure warning before the sinking
There was a mechanical failure warning before the crash, NTSB member Michael Graham said Sunday. About 10 of the 20 wagons carrying hazardous materials – among more than 100 wagons in total – derailed, the agency said.
“The crew received an alarm from a wayside flaw detector shortly before the derailment, indicating a mechanical problem,” Graham said. “Then an emergency brake kicked in.”
Investigators also identified the point of derailment and found video showing “preliminary indications of mechanical issues” on one of the car’s axles, Graham said.
The NTSB is still investigating when the potential fault occurred and the response from the crew, which included an engineer, conductor and trainee conductor, Graham added.
Investigators also requested records from Norfolk Southern, including track inspection records, locomotive and wagon inspections and maintenance records, train crew records and qualifications, said Graham.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration of the United States Department of Transportation, rail transportation is recognized as the safest way to transport hazardous materials in the United States.
“The vast majority of hazardous materials shipped by tank car each year arrives safely and without incident, and railroads generally have an exceptional record of transporting hazardous materials safely,” the administration said.
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