Many have likely heard about the public health crisis in Ohio. A train derailment on February 3rd caused panic among East Palestine, Ohio residents. The freight train derailment caused exposure to hazardous chemicals in the air, ground, and water of this region in Ohio. This exposure to toxic chemicals has caused concern for the general public, especially residents of East Palestine and neighboring towns, due to a potential health detriment.
The derailment occurred after a mechanical defect in the train car. While 50 train cars were damaged, no one is known to be injured in the accident. We know that out of the 50 train cars that were impacted, 11 of them contained hazardous materials. Vinyl chloride is one of the known substances that were stored in one of these train cars - a substance that is a known carcinogen. Authorities intentionally released vinyl chloride through fumes by burning the car. According to officials, this was done to prevent an even more catastrophic explosion.
The issue for public health?
Exposure to chemicals like vinyl chloride is a cause for concern, primarily because they are known to be carcinogens. Other chemicals that are released from the chemical process of burning vinyl chloride include hydrogen chloride and phosgene. The release of these chemicals, and many others, in the air, can potentially react and create further health problems. There are long-term and short-term health issues of concern with an environmental crisis of this level.
Since the train derailment, residents of East Palestine have already begun to report health problems they believe are a result of the accident. People have reported rashes, headaches, nausea, and sore throats, all common toxic chemical exposure symptoms. Initially, residents were evacuated from the area but eventually returned about a week after the accident.
Residents were able to return once the proper precautions were taken. Outdoor and indoor air was tested for toxicity to ensure the level of chemical exposure was safe enough for people to return. Water toxicity levels were also tested in the tap water of the East Palestine area.
Despite this testing, many residents have complained of the previously mentioned health concerns from exposure to these chemicals. Whether these health problems directly result from releasing these toxins in the area or not, there is an obvious concern, displeasure, and distrust from the public in their health moving forward.
Furthermore, knowing the full effect of this accident regarding long-term exposure and health problems is impossible. These potential long-term health effects include cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Therefore, the area's cleanup is crucial to mitigate detrimental long-term health effects.
Who is responsible for this public health crisis?
The train belonged to Norfolk Southern, one of the country’s leading transportation companies. For many days, no entity took responsibility for the accident or the clean-up after the train derailment. However, on February 21, 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they ordered Norfolk Southern to be responsible for all necessary cleanup and decontamination of the Ohio train derailment.
The EPA has already begun processes for cleanup and has instructed Norfolk Southern not only to continue their work but also to reimburse the agency for their work so far. The EPA also announced that due to their contract with the federal agency, they must adhere to the guidelines provided by them to complete all necessary cleanup, decontamination, and services to the public.
Today, we are still awaiting the completion of decontamination and cleanup of the entire train derailment and watching as our nation deals with this public health crisis in real time.
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