Ohio Train Derailment: Environmental Disaster Quietly Unfolding

The EPA says it’s safe to return to East Palestine after a train derailment sparked a toxic chemical fire, but locals are worried about ongoing health impacts.

A train derailment last week in Ohio has turned into a full-fledged environmental disaster, and it’s received surprisingly little national media coverage.

Last Friday, a train belonging to Norfolk Southern, one of America’s leading rail operators, derailed near the Pennsylvania border, leaving what the Associated Press called “a mangled and charred mass of boxcars and flames” just outside the village of East Palestine, home to about 5,000 people. The crash created a 50-car pileup—half the train’s length. According to Norfolk Southern, a fifth of the cars were carrying hazardous materials.


The wreckage proceeded to burn ominously all weekend. By Sunday evening, residents near the train tracks were told to “immediately evacuate” in a sudden alert from the office of Governor Mike DeWine. He went on to warn: “There is now the potential of catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile.”

Apparently a particular cause for concern were 14 giant tankers that were “exposed to fire” while full of hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinyl chloride. A chemical used in PVC, vinyl chloride is flammable, toxic, and a declared brain, lung, blood, and liver carcinogen. The federal government banned it from household spray cans in 1974. Breathing it “can make you dizzy or sleepy, or have a headache,” a fact sheet released two days ago by the Ohio Department of Health alerts readers. “You can die from breathing extremely high levels of vinyl chloride.”

It also boils at just 8 degrees Fahrenheit—meaning moving it into containers that cleanup crews could cart away probably wasn’t a safe option.

Instead, what authorities decided to do on Monday was a controlled burn of the chemical. That required evacuating more of East Palestine, since burning vinyl chloride was going to send massive plumes of hydrochloric acid and the toxic gas phosgene into the sky.

The burn alarmed people observing it from various positions, who maybe had a different idea of “controlled”:

Did you all know that Netflix filmed a movie there about this exact scenario. It’s called “White Noise.” This article is about a family who were extras in that movie and are now affected by the disaster. What are the odds of this?