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Environmental Impacts of Train Derailment in Ohio

Ohio Winter| Photo by Emily Lewis | The Wright State Guardian

 A train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio released chemicals into the area on Feb. 3. The accident exposes possible short-term and long-term environmental issues.

Short-term impacts

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed, releasing hazardous materials, these chemicals were burned off to limit exposure in the environment.

Dr. Abinash Agrawal, Wright State University professor in the chemistry department, explained that anything that goes into the air will dissipate with time. 

“We don’t know what the measured levels in the air was right after the accident, but you may have had people who may have experienced acute exposure to volatile chemicals in the breathable air,” Agrawal said.  

The Environmental Protection Agency decided to burn the vinyl chloride, and Agrawal explained that this could reduce the chemical’s toxicity. 

“The U.S. EPA reported that they have conducted indoor air testing at a total of 560 homes. No contaminants associated with the derailment were detected,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said in a Feb. 22 press release

Currently, according to the same press release, 20 outdoor air monitors are in the area keeping track of the air quality. 

Long-term impacts

The Feb. 22 Ohio Gov. press release stated that, to date, the EPA has removed approximately 4,588 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the immediate area of the derailment. Agrawal explained the possible long-term ramifications.

“So, the first thing is containing the problem as quickly as possible and identifying where the spill is and excavating the soil as much as possible,” Agrawal said. 

It is important to excavate as much soil from the area of the derailment as possible, Agrawal explained, because the spilled chemicals have the potential to get into the groundwater, which could contaminate the water the city uses. 

“Last week, test results confirmed that East Palestine’s municipal water was free from contaminants associated with the derailment,” the Feb. 22 press release from the governor stated. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Ohio EPA will independently test the municipal water once a week to ensure that this water source remains clean.” 

The Columbiana County Health Department is testing private wells, but the results are pending, so it is recommended that those with private wells drink bottled water for the time being.

Moving forward

Agrawal explained that people living in the area and surrounding areas could face the effects of the derailment for years to come.

“We’re not seeing the tip of the iceberg, yet,” Agrawal said. 
For more information on the East Palestine train derailment, visit the Ohio Emergency Management Agency website. To get private wells and indoor air quality tested, call the request hotline at 330-849-3919.

Elayna Storts

Wright Life Reporter

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