The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently held a press conference to discuss the cause of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which has caused a catastrophic chemical disaster.
During the conference, the NTSB referenced two videos that were obtained from a security camera in Salem, Ohio, located about 20 miles from the derailment site.
One of the videos showed sparks and flames emitting from beneath the train, which the NTSB believes was due to mechanical issues with the rail car axles.
The second video was recorded by a nearby processing plant, which had a hotbox detector that scans the temperature of the axles.
According to Michael Graham, a board member on the NTSB, the reading from the wayside defect detector resulted in an alarm that alerted the crew of a mechanical issue shortly before the derailment.
As a result, the train had to perform an emergency brake application, which may have caused the derailment.
The NTSB is currently reviewing the train’s data and audio recordings to determine the cause of the accident and which hotbox detector indicated the mechanical error.
The train derailment was a major environmental disaster in East Palestine, a small town with roughly 5,000 residents.
The train consisted of over 100 cars, 50 of which derailed, with 20 carrying hazardous materials and ten cars with pressurized vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogenic gas.
In order to prevent an uncontrolled explosion, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency performed a controlled burn of the toxic gas, which released large plumes of smoke containing vinyl chloride, phosgene, hydrogen chloride, and other poisonous gases into the air.
Due to the toxicity of the chemicals released into the air, officials issued a mandatory evacuation and shelter-in-place orders within a one-mile radius of the derailment site, affecting nearly 2,000 residents.
Despite the public safety risk, over 500 residents refused to leave their homes. The orders were lifted on February 8th, allowing residents to return to the area.
However, local authorities received numerous reports from residents outside the evacuation area’s one-mile radius, indicating that the disaster was far from over.
Many residents reported the sudden deaths of animals, including foxes, chickens, and fish, due to the hazardous air quality caused by the chemicals released from the controlled burn.
One local farmer and registered fox keeper, Taylor Holzer, who also works with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, has reported many animal deaths. Due to chemical agents coming into the air from the controlled burn, many foxes on Holzer’s farm experienced fatal effects.
“Out of nowhere, he [a fox] just started coughing really hard, just shut down,” Holzer recalled to local media outlet WKBN 27 News.
“This is not how a fox should act. He is very weak, limp. His eyes are very watery and weepy. Smoke and chemicals from the train, that’s the only thing that can cause it, because it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere,” he added.
“The chemicals that we’re being told are safe in the air, that’s definitely not safe for the animals…or people.”
Holzer’s worries were echoed by other residents who reported similar experiences near their homes. One of these residents was Katlyn Schwarzwaelder, who operates a dog kennel in Darlington, Pennsylvania.
The disaster forced her to evacuate her home, which was over 10 miles away from the controlled burn site. She fled to Boardman, Ohio, 15 miles from the derailment, and reported receiving numerous accounts of dead chickens, fish, and other animals from friends and acquaintances. One affected resident told Schwarzwaelder that they let their 2-year-old dog out, but it never returned and was found dead in their yard.
The accounts of Holzer, Schwarzwaelder, and others contradict the official account given by those responsible for the emergency response, who claimed that the situation was under control. The poor air quality poses a danger to public health, both in the short and long term, due to the presence of carcinogenic chemicals such as vinyl chloride. Professor Kevin Crist, a chemical and biomolecular engineer and Director of Ohio University’s Air Quality Center, states that exposure to these chemicals can lead to cancer in organs like the liver.
Despite efforts to use dispersion modeling to control the spread of airborne chemicals, the chemicals released after the derailment pose other hazards, such as water and soil contamination. The spill of chemicals into the Ohio River towards West Virginia forced officials to shut down water production in the area and look for alternative water sources. The risk of soil contamination raises concerns about the broader public health implications beyond just air pollution.
Despite official assurances that the air quality was safe, residents reported feeling the effects of the hazardous chemicals in the air, leading to concern and questions about the official narrative.
The train derailment and its aftermath have resulted in a significant environmental disaster that has yet to receive the attention it deserves.