Earlier this month, the Biden administration initiated a formal evaluation of risks posed by vinyl chloride, the cancer-causing chemical that burned in a plume of toxic black smoke following the train derailment earlier this year in East Palestine, Ohio. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it will be able to study vinyl chloride in order to determine whether it poses an "unreasonable risk to human health or the environment.” Vinyl chloride is only one of five chemicals the agency will be reviewing. The other chemicals set for review under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act include:
- Acetaldehyde: Is a colorless liquid or gas with a strong, fruity odor and is commonly found in many foods such as ripe fruits, cheese, and heated milk. Acetaldehyde is primarily used to produce other chemicals, including disinfectants, drugs, and perfumes. Repeated exposure to acetaldehyde in the air may cause cancer in humans.
- Acrylonitrile: Used to make certain plastics, rubbers, and chemicals, acrylonitrile is a toxic, colorless to pale yellow liquid that is harmful to the eyes, skin, lungs, and nervous system and with long-term exposure, can cause cancer in humans.
- Benzenamine: Also known as Aniline, is a clear to slightly yellow, oily liquid that darkens to a brown color on exposure to air. Long-term or repeated exposure may have effects on the liver, kidneys, blood, and spleen or, in some cases, lead to death.
- MBOCA: A colorless, crystalline solid, synthetic chemical that is commonly used to make polyurethane products such as gaskets, roller skate wheels, and shoe soles. Studies in animals have shown exposure to MBOCA over a long period of time can cause cancer of the lungs, liver, blood, breast, and bladder.
What Happened in East Palestine, Ohio?
On Friday, February 3, 2023, at roughly 8:55 p.m. ET, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, about a quarter-mile west of the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line. According to the reports posted by the EPA, Norfolk Southern reported the incident to the National Response Center at 10:53 p.m., and the EPA arrived on-site by 2:00 a.m. on February 4.
While the train was carrying 150 cars, only 50 cars were affected by the derailment. Of the affected cars, some caught fire, and others were reported to have spilled their loads into a ditch that feeds Sulphur Run, a stream that joins Leslie Run, which eventually empties into the Ohio River. Twenty of the affected train cars contained the following hazardous materials:
- Vinyl chloride,
- Ethylene glycol,
- Ethylhexyl acrylate,
- Butyl acrylate,
- and isobutylene
The rest of the train cars were uncoupled and removed from the scene. Three days later, in an attempt to clear the area and prevent a much more dangerous explosion, authorities decided to release and burn 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride inside five tanker cars, which sent hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the region, exposing residents to the toxic chemicals.
Due to the black smoke caused by the burn that spread over the surrounding area, officials initiated the evacuation of about half of its 5,000 residents. While state and federal officials say tests show the town's air and water are safe, however, nearly a year later, residents of East Palestine continue to voice their concerns regarding the lingering impacts on health.
This would not be the last train derailment for Norfolk Southern. Only a few weeks later, on March 5, 2023, around 5 p.m. near Springfield, Ohio, roughly 80 miles northeast of Cincinnati, another train operated by Norfolk Southern, this time carrying 212 cars, traveling from Bellevue, Ohio, to Birmingham, Ala., derailed. For more updates on the EPA's progress on the East Palestine Train Derailment Response, you can read their newsletter.
What Are the Dangers of Vinyl Chloride?
Vinyl chloride is a colorless, flammable gas with a mild, sweet odor typically used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, wire coatings, vehicle upholstery, and plastic kitchenware. According to the EPA, vinyl chloride is classified as a Group A human carcinogen, meaning exposure to vinyl chloride can lead to cancer in humans.
Aside from the increase in a person's risk of developing liver, lung, and other forms of cancer, human and animal studies have shown exposure to vinyl chloride increases the risk of damage to your nervous system, changes to the immune system, and a decrease in bone strength in fingers, arms, and joints.
When burned, Vinyl chloride decomposes and produces toxic and corrosive fumes of hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and phosgene. Humans, when exposed to phosgene, can experience vomiting and breathing trouble however, when exposed to both phosgene and hydrogen chloride can experience a variety of symptoms, including, but not limited to, headaches, burning of the throat or eyes, blurred vision, and nausea.
Were You Affected by the Ohio Train Derailment?
For more information about the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, contact us or read more here. Or, if you were directly impacted by the East Palestine train derailment, connect with a Morgan & Morgan attorney today by completing our free, no-obligation case evaluation form. Once submitted, our legal staff will review your application and connect with you to go over the next steps.