Fearing an explosion, authorities release toxic chemical after train derails in Ohio

Authorities on Monday completed the release of toxic chemicals that had been carried on a train that derailed over the weekend in eastern Ohio. Officials had warned that the chemical could be deadly if inhaled.

The release of vinyl chloride, a toxic and flammable gas used to produce vehicle interiors and PVC pipes, was completed late Monday afternoon after evacuations were extended from East Palestine, Ohio, the site of the Friday night train derailment, to an adjacent community in Pennsylvania.

The release was “successfully completed”, according to the train operator, Norfolk Southern. A burning of material would continue after dark, he said.

Portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night are still on fire at midday in East Palestine, Ohio, Saturday.Gene J. Puskar/AP

A message from the Federal Emergency Alert System on Monday urged residents of eastern Palestine and Pennsylvania’s Darlington Township to leave immediately.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said Sunday night that 500 people defied orders to leave, but on Monday he said he believed everyone had left.

The Ohio National Guard was deployed to the area Sunday evening and authorities went door to door urging stragglers to leave, DeWine said at a Monday news conference.

“Those in the red zone are in grave danger of death if they are still in this zone,” the governor warned.

Two of the five cars believed to be carrying vinyl chloride were likely filled with gas, and temperature changes could have triggered it, officials said at the news conference.

It left leaders with two poor choices: release a gas known to be deadly if inhaled and associated with a higher risk of cancer, or stay away for an extended period amid the risk of explosion. at the site of the derailment.

Authorities said an explosion would come with two dangers, including the same that accompanies a controlled release, exposure to a hazardous material.

“The vinyl chloride content of five railcars is currently unstable and has the potential to explode, causing a lethal spill of shrapnel and toxic fumes,” the Ohio governor said.

Each of the two cars believed to be filled with vinyl chloride contained 177,000 pounds of the chemical, a National Guard official said. It wasn’t clear how much was in the others. All five were subject to controlled release and subsequent burning, officials said.

Released material would reach an adjacent pit and ignite from flares placed in the feature, officials said.

“We’re going to place a small shaped charge, it’s going to create a hole of about 2 to 3 inches in the tank car,” said Scott Deutsch, regional hazardous materials manager for Norfolk Southern. “This will allow the material to exit the tank car.”

Environmental Protection Agency personnel have been in eastern Palestine since Friday evening monitoring the air and water, with no lingering signs of toxicity to eastern Palestine, agency officials said Monday.

A state environmental safety official said runoff from subsequent fire and firefighting efforts from the train reached a natural waterway, but officials dammed the flow. Fish in the area have been affected, the official said.

The derailment was reported at 8:55 p.m. Friday as the 150-car train was heading from Matteson, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania. It was estimated that 50 cars were off the track.

No injuries were reported, including among the train’s three-person crew.

Initial observations from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause of the derailment, include video and inspection evidence of a broken axle on one of the cars, a board member said Sunday.

Josh Cradduck, Claire Secrist, Christian Santana And Marin Scott contributed.


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