What happened

Photo: National Transportation Safety Board.

Vinyl chloride is used to produce PVC, a hard plastic used for pipes, as well as in some packaging, coatings and wires

It’s not just the chemicals that leaked from the train that are potentially hazardous, but also compounds produced by combustion. Scientists don’t know what happens when people are exposed to a combination of chemicals like vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate.

The vinyl chloride was purposefully set afire to avoid a catastrophic explosion while cars burned for days

Five rail cars of vinyl chloride burned—some of it done intentionally to reduce building pressure—likely producing toxic compounds called dioxins. Because hot air from a fire rises, the flames from the train sent a black plume high into the air, potentially spreading toxicants far beyond the site of the derailment. Dioxins are potent at really low levels and are persistent and bioaccumulative- meaning they persist in the body instead of breaking down.

Both the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the federal EPA are monitoring the pollution fallout and providing regular updates. On Feb. 21 the USEPA announced a sweeping enforcement action against Norfolk Southern, compelling the rail company to conduct and pay for cleanup actions associated with the derailment.

What's being done - Resident Resources

Anyone with a private well that may have been exposed to vinyl chloride should have the well monitored and tested more than once. People can air out their homes and are encouraged to seek medical help if they experience dizziness or itching eyes.The Conversation

Information regarding the hazardous substances contained in the various train cars and their potential health impacts, Environmental Health Project.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened a special investigation into safety practices at Norfolk Southern because the company has suffered five significant accidents since December 2021.

Governor DeWine's East Palestine response 

USEPA Emergency response page

Department of Transportation Fact Sheet: Freight Rail Industry Safety & Accountability, February 21, 2023

White House Fact Sheet: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Deploys Additional Federal Resources to East Palestine, Ohio, February 17, 2023

What the community is asking for

How to Help

Donate to River Valley Organizing Organizing:

Community Meetings, Soil and Water testing, legal support, and ongoing efforts

Mutual Aid of ongoing disaster relief efforts

Good organizing and community support can transform this tragedy into real change to rebuild and remedy. Caring about what happened in East Palestine is caring for what is happening in all of our local communities. And while we are witnessing the effects of the train disaster unravel before our eyes, it certainly will not be the last. How we demand transparency, advocate for each other, and provide restorative justice will be a guiding light for our continued fight.