Train carrying chemicals in Ohio derails and impacts nearby communities

Photo: Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 4, 2023. (Dustin Franz/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)


A train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, resulted in dangerous chemicals contaminating millions of people’s air and water supply. A video shows rainbow colors in a river along with dead fish a day after the accident on Feb. 3. Residents in the area are experiencing headaches, burning eyes and trouble breathing. 

In a recent report by The National Transportation Safety Board, a train carrying 11 tanks of hazardous chemicals derailed. A surveillance camera showed a wheel overheating before the accident. Residents within a mile of the derailment site were evacuated, and no fatalities were reported. 

First responders attempted to put out a fire at the scene. Still, due to the increasing temperature, it was presumed vinyl chloride was present at the scene was undergoing a chemical reaction that could cause an explosion, so a controlled fire was conducted for the next several hours. 

Among the crash site, several other chemicals were present at the scene like butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl. 

Arvin J.F. Cruz, associate professor of physical inorganic chemistry at FHSU, said the listed chemicals at the scene are mostly used for plastic, but each one has its own unique hazards. 

“My biggest concern is when vinyl chloride reacts with oxygen, it produces a compound called phosgene,” Cruz said, noting the history phosgene had in World War II. “You’re gonna feel like you’re running out of breath. That’s the major thing because it’s an asphyxiating agent. It chokes you.”

Cruz is most concerned with anyone who has pre-existing conditions along with pregnant women, children and the elderly. 

Roughly 20 miles south of the accident is the Ohio River, which runs along six different states. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance posted a video on Twitter of him visiting a creek in East Palestine showing an unusual rainbow effect in the water.

“There’s dead worms and dead fish all throughout this water,” Vance said in the video before scrapping the bottom of the creek to reveal how contaminated the water is. 

Stephen Donnelly, assistant professor of physical chemistry at FHSU, said there is great danger in ethylene glycol, which is mostly used as antifreeze. 

“It can be a big issue for pets and people. It can just pour out of the ground. Pets will drink it. It’s got kind of a sweet flavor; they’ll think its good for you but it’ll kill them,” Donnelly said. 

Donnelly said he expects an improvement in the railway system and the transportation of chemicals as long as the pressure for change continues. 

“Are we willing to pay for those extra things for the little bit of extra safety you get out of that?” Donnelly said, noting doubled-walled containers compared to thinner ones for transporting chemicals would be preferred. 

Cruz and Donnelly refer to the material safety data sheet, a document providing information on chemicals and compounds along with safety instructions for residents in the area. 

“You have to know your body; you have to know your resistance to certain things and your immunity, how good of an immune system you have,” Cruz said.