What Caused the Ohio Train to Derail?

What Caused the Ohio Train to Derail?

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What Caused the Ohio Train to Derail?

The recent derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying a payload of hazardous chemicals that were subsequently burned off in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, has sparked tremendous fear and debate. The 4,700 residents are justifiably anxious about the future and deeply concerned with the lack of knowledge concerning the chemicals, the lackluster response from officials, and the unhelpful politicization of the catastrophe.

Some residents have experienced worrying health problems, even though state and federal officials have expressed that there are no dangerous levels of toxins in the air or city water supply. Still, some experts concede that we won't know the full extent or danger of the chemical spill and the highly questionable solution to conduct a controlled burn until a more in-depth investigation occurs. Time is another factor since there are so many unknowns. However, we understand this isn't reassuring to the residents that have been exposed to toxins.

The investigation into what caused the derailment is still ongoing, but the latest probe is fixated on the failure of pressure relief devices. Officials from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released an urgent warning to railroads, advising them to review the performance of protective coverings on pressure relief valves. Suppose you or a loved one has experienced illness or losses due to the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. In that case, our toxic and environmental lawyers are here to help you recover compensation.

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  • What Toxic Chemicals Were on the Train?

    About 20 of the freight cars were carrying toxic materials. The compounds that were released into the environment that could impact East Palestine and surrounding communities are as follows:

    Butyl acrylate is used as a raw material for adhesives, plastics, coatings, acrylic rubber, and emulsions. Symptoms from exposure included eye, skin, and upper respiratory irritation, breathing difficulty, and sensitization dermatitis.

    Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC pipes, vehicle upholstery, wire coatings, and plastic kitchenware. Symptoms from exposure include headache, dizziness, nausea, liver complications, respiratory illness, contact dermatitis, and rare cancers, among other health problems.

    Ethylhexyl acrylate is used to make coatings, construction materials, acrylic rubber, emulsions, and adhesives. Symptoms of exposure include lethargy, headache, nausea, convulsions, and respiratory and gastrointestinal irritation.

    Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether is used in paints, metal and household cleaners, brake fluid, and printing ink. Symptoms of exposure include eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation and may cause central nervous system, blood, kidney, and liver problems.

    Of all these chemicals, vinyl chloride was the one that was most concerning to environmental officials because when burned, vinyl chloride decomposes into hydrogen chloride and phosgene gas. Hydrogen chloride is extremely corrosive and, when inhaled, can lead to chemically induced asthma and pulmonary edema. Phosgene gas was used in World War I chemical warfare and was responsible for the majority of casualties. Severe respiratory effects such as pulmonary edema, pulmonary emphysema, and fibrosis have been reported after exposure.

    Some experts say one of the biggest problems is that even though testing shows no alarming levels of toxic substances in the air or groundwater, the tests aren't sufficient and do not cover all the possible compounds released.

  • Why Did Norfolk Southern Burn the Chemicals After the Derailment in East Palestine, Ohio?

    In the early aftermath of the disaster, Norfolk Southern officials warned of the potential for a catastrophic explosion after the wreckage burned for almost two days. In response, with the approval of the Ohio governor, it was decided to carry out a controlled burn-off of the chemicals. The result released more than one million pounds of toxic compounds into the environment. Since then, however, the decision has been under considerable scrutiny. Some imply that the decision was more about getting the railroad functional again rather than concerns for people's safety and the environment.  

    One of the most critical voices is Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro. He's accused Norfolk Southern of failing to give accurate information and providing conflicting outcomes of the controlled burn. Furthermore, the company failed to divulge how many cars it intended to burn that contained highly toxic vinyl chloride. He was under the impression that one tanker was relevant, then five ended up emptied and burned.

    Although vinyl chloride breaks down fairly quickly in the air, when it leaches into the subsoil, it can linger as a hidden threat for years, potentially contaminating the food chain and water supplies. When the decision to perform a controlled release and burn was made, it was supposed to avert an explosion that would have sent shrapnel flying for miles. Those that support the decision say it was the lesser of two evils. Still, the problem is that we won't know the actual long-term consequences until health problems manifest. Exposure to chemical spill cocktails like the one in East Palestine may end up causing rare cancers, defects, and mutations.   

  • What Investigations Have Happened Since the Derailment?

    Federal investigators are still working on sorting out the specifics of why the train derailed. Thus far, they've determined that at least one of the train cars carrying vinyl chloride had a safety valve malfunction. The purpose of these valves is to prevent pressure build-up that could result in an explosion. However, in the East Palestine derailment, the aluminum housing that covered the pressure valves in the derailed cars had melted from the ensuing fire. Perhaps in hindsight, aluminum isn't the best material to provide a safeguard for these devices. Still, the fact that the pressure valves malfunctioned had nothing to do with the root cause of the derailment.

    The crew was alerted by a safety sensor alarm late on the evening of February 23 that detected an issue with wheel bearing temperatures. They were trying to bring the train to a stop, but a wheel bearing that had dangerously overheated failed while it was still traveling, apparently causing the derailment. Once the train had come to a halt, the crew could see fire and smoke and alerted authorities, who responded soon after. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has stopped short of giving an official and final declaration of the cause.

    The controlled burn released a massive soot-laden plume of toxic smoke over the town and is just one issue facing East Palestine residents and surrounding communities. Anytime toxic chemicals are released into the atmosphere in such a manner, they can interact with each other in ways that experts don't fully understand. The fallout of burning chemicals is dioxins which are toxic pollutants. Dioxins are known to cause cancers and can affect people's hormones and reproductive and immune systems.

  • Why Are People Getting Sick If Officials Say Everything Is Okay?

    It's difficult for the residents of East Palestine to accept official reassurances when experiencing symptoms typical of chemical exposure. People are still complaining of headaches, rashes, coughs, and other strange ailments more than a month after the derailment. Unfortunately, residents don't feel confident in the explanations put forth by the government and railroad officials. That may be for a good cause since the Federal Environmental Protection Agency has put Norfolk Southern in charge of testing for dioxins.

    It's not beyond the realm of possibility to suspect that damaging test results might be manipulated, suppressed, or even disappear, considering the company would pay more for clean-up and lawsuits when tests come back positive. Not to mention that the railroads have stripped down their workforce to bare bones to minimize costs. If standard rail workers are complaining of being pushed to work harder and faster for the sake of speed and minimizing costs, how would it be different for the railroad's division of toxic and environmental clean-up workers?

    Railroads no longer serve the public. Instead, they serve their shareholders, and American citizens like those that live in towns like East Palestine are left holding the bag. We think that's wrong and plan to make a difference.

  • What Is Morgan and Morgan Law Firm Doing for Residents of East Palestine?

    Morgan and Morgan have worked hard for thousands of people who have been victims of toxic and environmental disasters. For example, we successfully recovered $1.8 billion for the residents of Porter Ranch after 100,000 tons of methane and other gasses were leaked into the environment by utility provider SoCalGas. Like the residents of East Palestine, 118 days of exposure led to nausea, headaches, bloody noses, and worsened health conditions.

    The toxic and environmental lawyers at Morgan and Morgan didn't have an easy time litigating against the colossal utility company, either. They fought every step of the way but ultimately ended up being sanctioned by the courts for more than $5.7 million for willfully and intentionally acting in bad faith. SoCalGas, Sempra Energy, and their counsel had unfairly withheld over 150,000 documents during the case's discovery phase. Still, in the end, we succeeded for our clients and made them pay.

    Likewise, we won another landmark toxic and environmental class action against Columbia Gas for the Merrimack Valley 2018 explosion that caused one fatality, injured dozens, destroyed infrastructure, and wrecked the local economy. Columbia Gas had a duty of care to the residents of Merrimack Valley to ensure its pipelines were properly designed and maintained to carry natural gas. The class action successfully demonstrated that the company failed in its duty of care, and subsequently, we were able to recover $143 million for the members of the class. That kind of money made a real difference to our clients.

    Now, we are representing residents of East Palestine and surrounding communities in a class action against another careless corporation, Northern Suffolk. The lawsuit will demonstrate that Northern Suffolk made the already catastrophic toxic spill even worse with their poorly thought-out solution to burn off the chemicals instead of taking steps that would have been more costly and time-consuming. We expect class members to be awarded free medical monitoring and other damages that may include loss of property value, emotional distress, increased risk of health problems, and more.

    Suppose you or a loved one have been impacted by the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, or another environmental disaster. In that case, we urge you to contact our experienced toxic and environmental lawyers. We have fearless and knowledgeable attorneys who can provide the kind of legal counsel you need to tackle even the most powerful wrongdoer.

    Contact us today for a free case evaluation. Your concerns are our concerns, and we treat every client with the dignity, gravity, and dedication they deserve.

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