Symptoms of Phosgene Exposure

Symptoms of Phosgene Exposure

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Symptoms of Phosgene Exposure

Worrying about the symptoms of phosgene exposure was probably not something the residents of East Palestine and surrounding communities ever thought they'd have to do. After all, being around dangerous levels of phosgene gas shouldn't be something anyone would be concerned about unless they work in the chemical manufacturing industry, transport it, or use it to develop other materials. However, exposure to this deadly gas and other toxic substances is precisely what is top of mind for the residents of the town where a Norfolk Southern train derailed early last February.

Since the derailment that ultimately resulted in millions of pounds of toxic compounds being released into the environment, East Palestine, Ohio, residents have mounting concerns that are all valid. Morgan and Morgan are here to champion their cause and ensure Norfolk Southern suffers the consequences of their negligence, just as East Palestine citizens are suffering the symptoms of phosgene exposure, among other reactions to toxic chemicals.

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  • How Does Phosgene Gas Affect the Body?

    Phosgene is a colorless gas that people have described smells like musty hay. Exposure to phosgene gas causes symptoms that can include dry burning throat, breathing difficulty, chest pain, eye irritation, vomiting, cough, foamy sputum expelled from the respiratory tract, and in its liquid form, frostbite. It is an extremely hazardous material and was used as a weapon prolifically during World War I. The gas is believed to have contributed to about 85,000 deaths.

    Since it lies low to the ground and is three times heavier than air, it was very potent in trench chemical warfare. Exposure to phosgene gas can go unnoticed because of the seemingly mild odor, and symptoms may be slow to manifest. Wet phosgene is highly corrosive as it decomposes into hydrochloric acid and carbon dioxide, which is extremely caustic to tissue in the human body.

  • What Happens When You Inhale Phosgene?

    When phosgene is inhaled, the blood-air barrier is disrupted, which can result in pulmonary edema (an abnormal fluid buildup in the lungs.) The critical factor in exposure is the concentration levels and the duration. People who work with phosgene are usually protected by safety gear, including indicator badges worn close to the nose and mouth that will alert when exposed to dangerous levels. Unfortunately, the residents of East Palestine don't have access to the kind of safety equipment that might keep them safe.

    Although there haven't been any fatalities as of yet, there is deep concern about the cocktail of chemicals that were released. No one knows how these chemicals interact with each other, and even more worrisome, no one seems to understand exactly what compounds coalesced as a result of the decision to burn off chemicals instead of finding different means to deal with the chemical spill.

    While residents were evacuated during the burn-off of the chemicals that produced phosgene gas, there is still a risk through low levels of continuous exposure. While high concentration levels of exposure can kill relatively quickly, chemists that routinely work with the hazardous material have come down with chronic respiratory health issues that ultimately led to respiratory failure in industrial settings.

  • What Do We Know About the Long-Term Effects of Phosgene?

    Not a lot of testing has been done concerning the long-term effects of exposure to phosgene because it's a highly toxic gas. However, a case study was performed on ten patients who were accidentally exposed to phosgene gas in February 2011. All patients reported a cough and choking sensation, eye irritation, and difficulty breathing. 50% had intense chest pain and/or vomiting. Low blood pressure and shallow breathing with crackling sounds emanating from the lungs were observed. Four of the patients died despite doctors doing their best to treat them for exposure to a toxic gas that we still don't know a great deal about.

    Generally, substantial exposure that doesn't result in immediate death may be followed by receding symptoms and, potentially, a full recovery. However, some cases report the development of infectious pneumonitis (pneumonia) after 3-5 weeks of exposure. Skin contact can cause lesions similar to frostbite or burns to manifest. Since phosgene decomposes to hydrochloric acid and carbon monoxide, people who have been exposed can develop asthma-like symptoms and experience bronchial wall destruction.

    Lung injury induced by phosgene gas exposure should be treated immediately. However, chronic bronchitis, Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome, pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchial asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, premature dementia, and emphysema have been reported in humans exposed to the toxic compound. 

  • What Happened in East Palestine, Ohio?

    Around 9 pm on the evening of February 23rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying 151 total cars (including hazardous chemical tankers) derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. A few of the derailed cars burned for over two days, and worries about an explosion prompted officials to agree to a controlled burn of several rail cars. The result was the release of hydrogen chloride and phosgene gas into the environment. Residents in the surrounding area were evacuated during the burn.

    The train, weighing about 18,000 tons, had experienced at least one mechanical failure that is believed to have led to the derailment. Officials are leaning toward a wheel bearing malfunction as security footage caught in Salem, Ohio, showed fire rising from the bottom of one of the railcars. The footage was captured about 20 miles northwest of East Palestine. Rail workers were alerted via a safety device to the issue and took steps to slow and stop the train, but it was too late. Once the train came to a stop, they exited the engine to do an inspection and saw fire and smoke and quickly alerted authorities.

    Fifty-one cars were in the derailment pile, of which 11 contained hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride (which produces phosgene gas when burned) along with butyl acrylate and benzene residue, among others. Nearly 70 emergency agencies convened from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in response to the derailment.

    After two days of burning, a temperature change in one of the cars was detected, which sparked the fear of an explosion that would send shrapnel flying. A faulty relief valve in one of the tankers carrying vinyl chloride was the catalyst for the decision to release the chemical into the environment and burn it off into the air, discharging phosgene gas and hydrogen chloride.

    While officials reported air quality tests revealing nothing of concern, residents in surrounding counties could smell the chemicals and were advised to stay indoors. After the decision to burn off the chemicals, Norfolk Southern resumed transport through the town on February 8th despite their previous commitment to the mayor to halt services until its residents could return to their homes.

    On February 9th, residents were given the green light to return to the town with reassurances by the EPA that air around the evacuation zone was safe. Testing also indicated no dangerous compounds could be detected in the city's municipal water supply.

  • What Are the Health and Environmental Concerns Facing East Palestine, Ohio Residents?

    Early observations by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources revealed that 3,500 small fish had died. Still, locals observed captive animals and livestock dying following the burn. Later statements from the Department of Natural Resources admitted that the toxic release of chemicals was the likely cause of more than 43,000 marine animals dying in the area. Material from the crash was observable as oily residue in creeks, streams, and rivers, which made the rounds on social media. All the while, state, federal, and Norfolk Southern officials insisted there was nothing to worry about and that life could continue as usual.

    While gas pollutants generally dissipate in the air, some experts are more concerned with the dioxins produced during the burn. Dioxins have more staying power and are linked to many severe illnesses/

    Residents who returned after being given the go-ahead soon began complaining of rashes, sore throats, nausea, and headaches, all of which are symptoms of phosgene gas exposure and other chemicals. Of course, this caused great alarm and concern, as it should. Unfortunately, our country has a long history of making people feel safe about toxic chemical spills when the reality is officials simply don't have enough information to make these calls, even if the scientific testing equipment says all is good. The issue is that because of the burn and the combination of chemicals, even experts aren't certain of the compounds produced. Thus, they don't really know what to test for, making it impossible for residents to trust the results and ignore obvious warning signs and symptoms they're experiencing firsthand and can see with their own eyes.

    One resident began feeling ill within 30 minutes of returning home and decided that her family couldn't stay and risk their health. Rashes, nausea, and sore throats reported by many can't be a coincidence. Another issue is the lack of response from Norfolk Southern, especially in the early aftermath. The multi-billion dollar company offered $1000 to residents initially for the "inconvenience." But where are these people supposed to go on $1000? Another more pressing concern is the present-day and long-term health effects of toxic phosgene exposure. These people will now have the possibility of developing devastating and expensive health problems for the rest of their lives, along with lost property value and income.

    Unfortunately, Morgan and Morgan have much experience dealing with big companies that want to avoid accountability for their negligence. We are determined to make Norfolk Southern pay for the harm they've caused to the innocent people of East Palestine. Since the February 3rd derailment, yet another Norfolk Southern derailment has taken place in Ohio, raising serious concerns about the railroad's commitment to the safety of citizens across this nation. Although no hazardous materials leaked in this derailment, how many malfunctions will it take for them to prioritize safety?

    Sometimes making an example of a wrongdoer is the only way to make a dent in corporate greed, so Morgan and Morgan have filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern on behalf of the victims in East Palestine, Ohio. We are working hard to ensure those affected by the East Palestine derailment will be compensated for this environmental disaster. The damages we are seeking on your behalf include the following:

    • Medical monitoring
    • Injunctive and declaratory relief
    • Damages related to injuries
    • Loss of property value
    • Emotional distress
    • Increased risk of severe future health issues
    • Punitive damages

    The decision to burn off chemicals instead of completing a more lengthy and costly cleanup was likely the worst possible. However, it got their trains up and running quickly, which we might argue is what mattered most. We intend to make them pay.

    If you or a loved one have suffered symptoms of phosgene exposure or have experienced financial losses due to the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, contact Morgan and Morgan. We're here to help.

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