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Everything You Need to Know About the Toxic Train in Ohio

Todo lo que tienes saber sobre el tren tóxico en Ohio, El American

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Until a few days ago, you probably hadn’t heard of East Palestine, a town of fewer than 5,000 people located in Ohio. Last February 3, the neighbors witnessed a tragedy that shook the United States. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in that place, first causing a fire and then an explosion controlled by the authorities. Concern about the environmental and population impact has not been long in coming and this is what is known so far.

What happened?

At 21:00 hours on February 3, the train derailed in East Palestine. The engine was in the middle of a journey between Madison (Illinois) and Conway (Pennsylvania) and was carrying a total of 150 cars. The accident caused 38 of them to derail and another 14 to catch fire.

The main problem lies exclusively in what was being transported: hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride, a highly flammable and potentially carcinogenic toxic gas.

The episode caused a dense smoke that set off alarms at the governor’s mansion. Faced with the danger of the explosion, residents on both sides of the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania were ordered to evacuate.

On February 5, authorities released in a controlled manner all of the toxic chemicals present in five tank cars and diverted the contents into a ditch, where they were subsequently burned. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, “A team of experts” detonated the chemicals and ignited them to “prevent a potentially catastrophic explosion following a train derailment.”

There was, of course, a subsequent investigation, involving local and federal officials, primarily the NTSB and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the findings, what caused the accident would have been the failure of a wheel bearing moments before the derailment.

As for the evacuees, Norfolk Southern, the company in charge of the train, reported last Tuesday that it had provided more than $1.2 million in refunds and cash advances to families to help cover total evacuation expenses.

The state response was partly criticized by residents, mainly after the arrest of a journalist during a press conference on the derailment.

What are the consequences of this toxic disaster?

Everything you need to know about the toxic train in Ohio
Aerial photo taken with a drone shows a passing freight train as cleanup continues following the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train that has raised concerns among residents over the release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. (EFE)

After monitoring the air, the EPA stated that they had found “no levels of concern” of contamination in and around East Palestine. However, they also reported that the accident released and will continue to release chemicals into the air, soil, and surrounding waters. These include vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ethers.

As for the water, The New York Times reported, “the East Palestine Water Treatment Plant said it had not seen adverse effects.” In addition, “Norfolk Southern said in a statement that its own experts and contractors were testing water from private wells, although those homeowners were encouraged to use bottled water.”

As early as February 8, the governor’s office announced that approximately 2,000 residents were allowed to return to their homes. Among other restrictions, schools remained closed throughout the week, as did some roads.

Residents of East Palestine reported on social media about the death of fish and frogs in local streams as well as other animals. In addition, they reported smelling chemicals in the city and experiencing ailments, including headaches.

And after the toxic train crash, what’s next?

As Senator J. D. Vance expressed on Twitter, this is a “complex environmental disaster” that would require a long-term study.

Along the same lines, Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist, stated in dialogue with WKBN that “There’s a lot of what-ifs, and we’re gonna be looking at this thing 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the line and wondering, ‘Gee, cancer clusters could pop up, well water could go bad.”

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Caggiano also recommended that the residents have a medical check-up, simply to compare the state of their health in a few years’ time.

For Pete DeCarlo, a professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University, the pertinent question that remains is whether chemicals are still being released into the environment. “If there are still residual chemical emissions, then that still presents a danger for people in the area,” he told The Washington Post.

In the meantime, the Ohio EPA is working at the site for a two-phase cleanup. First, the removal of materials from the site will be conducted, followed by an assessment and implementation of a remediation plan.

Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]