Derailed Train in Ohio Prompts "Controlled Release" of Toxic Vinyl Chloride — Everything You Need to Know

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Feb. 7 2023, Published 11:38 a.m. ET

In the small village of East Palestine, Ohio, which is located on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, a massive train derailment has set off a chain reaction of chaos. Locals were asked to evacuate the area as the crashed train cars threatened to explode, and as officials launched an operation to drain an explosive chemical called vinyl chloride from the train cars, which poses a number of environmental risks in the area.

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If you live in the East Palestine area, make sure to follow all local evacuation guidance to stay safe. And keep reading for everything you need to know about the Ohio train derailment, where the evacuation area is, and the risks vinyl chloride poses.

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A train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio has led to mayhem and danger in the area.

This all began on the evening of Friday, Feb. 3, when a 150-car train transporting various hazardous materials derailed as it passed through East Palestine, Ohio, as reported by NBC News.

In the following two days, various cars from the crashed train erupted and produced small explosions, due to the chemicals on board.

Over the weekend, officials began advising locals to evacuate the area, due to the potential risks associated with these explosions.

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But then on Monday morning, a news release shared on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's website explained that the Ohio National Guard and U.S. Department of Defense ran some test models on Monday morning, which led officials to issue a serious and immediate evacuation order for peope in the surrounding area.

The train derailment in Ohio's evacuation area:

Specifically, the evacuation order applies to the 1-mile by 2-mile area around East Palestine, which affects parts of Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, since the village is so close to the border. This affected around half of East Palestine's 4,800 residents, and a much smaller amount of Pennsylvania border residents, as per AP News.

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Here's a map of the evacuation area, as of publication on the morning of Feb. 7, as per Gov. DeWine's website:

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What is vinyl chloride? The chemical was released from the derailed Ohio train.

Also on Monday morning, the governor explained that five of the rail cars were determined to contain vinyl chloride.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), vinyl chloride is a synthetic, colorless gas that can easily ignite. It's produced for various commercial applications, but mostly to make polyvinyl chloride, a form of plastic known as PVC.

NCI adds that exposure to vinyl chloride has been connected to multiple forms of cancer, including liver cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia.

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The vinyl chloride being carried on these crashed train cars caused them to shoot toxic fumes into the atmosphere, as well as shoot shrapnel up to a mile away, as per CNN. And on top of that, the vinyl chloride rendered the cars unstable, and at risk of a major toxic explosion, as per the governor's press release.

So, Norfolk Southern Railroad announced that come that afternoon, there would be a "controlled release" of the vinyl chloride.

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"According to Norfolk Southern Railroad, the controlled release process involves the burning of the rail cars' chemicals, which will release fumes into the air that can be deadly if inhaled," the press release read.

Because of this, the evacuation orders became much more serious, and law enforcement was tasked with knocking on doors to make sure the area was completely clear of people.

That afternoon, the controlled release began.

As reported by AP News, on Monday afternoon, crews worked to slowly release the vinyl chloride into a trough. The trough was then set on fire, at which point thick black smoke and flames could be seen in the sky above the train.

The release emitted other toxic materials into the air, including hydrogen chloride and phosgene (which was used as a weapon in World War I).

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On Monday night, Pennsylvania's Emergency Management Agency tweeted that even though many were concerned by the smoke, "everything was carried out according to plan."

The agency added that the U.S. EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection were both monitoring air and water quality in relation to the release, and did not detect anything concerning, and they will continue to monitor things. As of Tuesday morning, evacuation orders have not yet been lifted.

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