Train carrying hazardous chemicals derails near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border

On Friday, February 3rd, nearly 50 cars derailed in the town of East Palestine, Ohio. Five of the train cars contained vinyl chloride, a dangerous chemical that can cause cancer. To prevent a further disastrous explosion, crews released the vinyl chloride and burned it off. The town’s residents report serious health problems like bloody noses, burning throats, nausea, headaches, and vomiting. Waterways near the derailment site have also been contaminated, killing more than 40,000 fish and marine life. Despite this, Ohio authorities state that tests show no dangerous chemicals in the water or in the air. Norfolk Southern is required to clean up the mess and reimburse residents or face serious consequences and fines. 

The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report stated that the derailment was 100% preventable. The two wayside defect detectors, which detect any axle or signal problems from passing trains, that the train passed weren’t triggered because the temperature of the bearing wasn’t high enough to raise an audible alarm until the third detector. But by then it was already too late. According to Jennifer Homendy, the chair of NTSB, “had there been a detector earlier….the derailment may not have occurred.” While the cause of the derailment hasn’t been released, investigators are focusing on one car’s wheelset and bearing. 

Videos show sparks flying from underneath the train as one wheel bearing overheats. Its temperature, 253 degrees Fahrenheit, reached a critical level, well above the ambient temperature. An alarm instructed the crew to slow down and stop the train, engaging the emergency brakes. But during the deceleration, one of the cars, Car 23, derailed and the train came to a full stop. 

Currently, 4,588 cubic yards of soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water have been removed around the site. The railroad tracks will also be raised so the soil can be removed. Wells are being tested in the town, but residents are encouraged to drink bottled water until their test results return. There are calls for Norfolk Southern to buy the homes of residents that don’t feel safe at home.