Derailed Train Carrying Hazardous Chemicals in Ohio Could Explode, Officials Fear

Residents near the derailment have been ordered to evacuate.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Photo: Gene J. Puskar (AP)

Update February 6 at 6:55 p.m.: Local WTOV9-NEWS9 Tyler Madden tweeted a photo of the site showing thick, black smoke rising from the wreck, apparently part of the process of releasing hazardous material from the train cars. Madden reported that rail operator Norfolk Southern said in a statement, “The controlled breach of several rail cars has been completed successfully under the supervision of experts and first responders. Some of the material is now burning off consistent with expectations from the earlier models, and is expected to drain for a short number of hours. We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio EPA. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue.”

Original article appears below.

A 150-car train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in northeastern Ohio, and the local area is now at risk from the potential release of toxic substances as well as a potential explosion. The train was headed to Pennsylvania from Illinois and derailed on Friday night, NPR reported.

Advertisement

Fifty of the train’s cars went off the tracks, NBC News reported. Various agencies are currently on the ground to assess the situation and the dangers it could pose to East Palestine, the community closest to the crash. “There were 20 total hazardous material cars in the train consist—10 of which derailed. 5 of the derailed hazmat cars were carrying vinyl chloride,” the National Transportation Safety Board tweeted on Saturday.

Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin that’s used in many plastic products, including packaging materials. It’s also a gas that can cause dizziness and sleepiness, and at high levels it can cause death, according to the CDC. Long-term exposure is associated with nerve damage, liver damage, and even cancer.

On Monday, Ohio officials said they would conduct a controlled release of the chemicals onboard the train. “We have put together a plan to manually vent the cars. The contents will be drained in a controlled fashion,” rail operator Norfolk Southern Corp said in a statement, Reuters reported. According to a post on the rail operator’s website, there is no estimate as to when service can be returned to the train route.

The Ohio EPA Emergency Response is also on the ground monitoring air and water quality near the derailed train in East Palestine. “Our team is working closely with U.S. EPA and local and state partners to assist in the response,” the agency tweeted.

Advertisement

Scarily, toxins aren’t the only immediate danger—parts of the derailed train could explode, CNN reported. Residents within a mile of the derailed train have been ordered to evacuate. There are currently two evacuation centers set up in the town of about 5,000 people, but several hundred people have declined to evacuate, the Associated Press reported.

Advertisement

“Residents living within a mile of the train derailment site who have not yet left their homes are asked to immediately evacuate due to the potential of a major explosion,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine tweeted Sunday evening, along with a document of evacuation orders. In the tweet, the governor urged those who have not done so to leave as soon as they could, because an explosion could launch shrapnel as far as a mile away from the explosion. His tweet also said that people with children who did not evacuate “could be subject to arrest.”

The cause of the derailment is unknown. According to investigators, there are data and image recorders on the train that could reveal what went wrong. However, it could take several weeks before there is a complete report about the cause, CNN reported.