What’s known about the toxic plume from the Ohio train derailment
Pennsylvania’s governor said Norfolk Southern’s response to the disaster has put first-responders and residents ‘at significant risk’
February 15, 2023 at 5:18 p.m. EST
Ohio train derailment spurs massive fire
A train derailed near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania on Feb. 3, causing a large fire and prompting evacuations. (Video: AP)
An Ohio town is reckoning with the aftermath of a train derailment that unleashed highly toxic chemicals into the air, water and ground on Feb. 3, causing a massive fire, displacing residents and threatening public health.
The derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border, has left residents uncertain and fearful about their town and the toxic mess that raises questions about the area’s water and soil.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said the air is safe to breathe and Norfolk Southern, the rail company, has pledged to clean up. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday he was “not seeing” the need for further federal assistance, though President Biden had offered it. Without the full extent of contamination known, however, environmental advocates have questioned the response, and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has said Norfolk Southern mismanaged its response to the disaster.
“The reassurances that these front-line communities are being given that ‘We didn’t find anything terribly serious’ is just misleading,” Joe Minott, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, told The Washington Post over the weekend.
As effects continue to emerge, here’s what to know.
The Ohio train derailment and chemical spill
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WHAT TO KNOW
- What happened when the train derailed?
- What caused the accident?
- What was the train carrying?
- How are residents affected?
- How are wildlife and the environment affected?
- What about drinking water?
Show all questions
What happened when the train derailed?
Part of the Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3 around 9 p.m. in East Palestine, Ohio, causing a massive fire. Fifty cars were involved in the crash and fire, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.
Eleven of the cars that derailed were carrying hazardous materials, the NTSB said, some of which escaped during the crash and burned during the fire. Because of the risk of contamination and explosion posed by the chemicals, firefighters couldn’t put the blaze out for days. About 1,500 residents of the village, which is on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, were told to evacuate.
On Feb. 5, a drastic temperature change in one of the rail cars created a high probability that it would explode in a “catastrophic” blast, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said at a Tuesday news briefing. Evacuations were ordered, and officials decided to allow the controlled release of vinyl chloride from the train car to avoid an explosion. It sent a plume of toxic fumes into the air.
Three days later, evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes. The Environmental Protection Agency said its air monitoring had not picked up any hazardous levels of chemicals, though some experts have said the monitoring shou