Federal Lawsuit Filed, Seeking Medical Testing after Fiery Train Derailment in Ohio
This incident highlights the need to get to the root cause of this derailment and to make the necessary corrections.
Mary Chastain recently covered the train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, and the consequences of the controlled burn as part of the response to the hazardous materials being transported.
In the wake of being exposed to the released chemicals and their combustion products, impacted residents have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the carrier, Norfolk Southern, to set up health monitoring for residents in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by two Pennsylvania residents calls for the rail operator to pay for medical screenings and related care for anyone living within a 30-mile (48-kilometer) radius of the derailment to determine who was affected by toxic substances released after the derailment. The lawsuit also is seeking undetermined damages.
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed Feb. 3 in the Ohio village of East Palestine. No one was injured in the derailment that investigators said was caused by a broken axle.
Three days after the accident, authorities decided to release and burn vinyl chloride inside five tanker cars, sending hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the air.
As an environmental health and safety professional, who teaches emergency response to hazardous materials and has also done hazardous materials response, I would like to expand upon some of the issues brought up in media reports covering this event.
One of the critical considerations in assessing the response to this incident is that both vinyl chloride and ethylhexyl acrylate (two of the chemicals being shipped in tank cars) can undergo hazardous polymerization. This means at elevated temperatures, the small molecules will join together to form larger molecules and release a lot of energy and toxic compounds while doing so.
Isobutylene is a flammable gas, and under prolonged exposure to fire or heat, containers of this material may rupture violently and rocket.
Therefore, if the responders could not control those three tanks’ temperatures, then the best option would be to burn the material in place. Otherwise, instead of 5 burning tanks releasing decomposition products, there may have been three or more exploding tanks….which would have released the same decomposition products but could have caused substantially more physical devastation.
Norfolk Southern Railway Regional Manager Hazardous Materials Scott Deutsch defended the decision and said by burning the chemicals during the day, fumes could “disperse more quickly” according to Cleveland.com. If the rail cars had exploded, debris would be unable to be controlled and could cause more harm, according to Deutsch.
Anytime there is a train derailment, there is the potential for a catastrophic event. However, rail is the most efficient and safe way to transport most materials, including chemicals vital to industry and agriculture.
This incident highlights the need to get to the root cause of this derailment and make the necessary corrections.
Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department coalition, said he worries the chances of a catastrophic derailment are increasing because major freight railroads have eliminated roughly one-third of their workers over the past six years. Companies have shifted to running fewer, longer trains and say they don’t need as many crews, mechanics and locomotives.
Before those operating changes, Regan said inspectors used to have about two minutes to inspect every railcar. Now they only get roughly 30 to 45 seconds to check each car. Signalmen who maintain crossing guards and safety signals along the tracks also have bigger territories, making it harder to keep up with preventative maintenance.
“They’re really just trying to squeeze as much productivity out of these workers as they can,” Regan said. “And when you’re focused on timing and rushing, unfortunately sometimes things can fall through the cracks.”
Government accident data shows an uptick in accidents in recent years, although the numbers remain quite small at 8,929 last year. Accidents were tallied at a rate of 17.4 per million train miles (17.4 per 1.6 million train kilometers) in 2019, but that drops to 2.9 accidents per million train miles without incidents at railroad crossings and those involving trespassers that are largely out of railroads’ control.
It would also be exceedingly helpful if the local, state, and federal officials would be truthful about the levels of the chemicals detected. It would also be helpful if the Department of Transportation had serious leadership and worked with the critically essential rail companies to reduce the number of derailments in the first place.
From 1990, the first year the BTS began tracking derailments and injuries on a yearly basis, to 2021, there have been 54,539 accidents in which a train derailed. That’s an average of 1,704 derailments per year.
Those numbers might seem pretty staggering, but derailments vary in severity and only a portion result in injuries. During that same time frame, 5,547 people were injured when a train derailed, or about 174 per year. Even then, much of that data is skewed due to a 2002 derailment in North Dakota in which a hazardous materials spill injured more than 1,400 people, BTS said.
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So Leslie, as a professional, if you lived near the derailment, would you move you and your family back home when given the ‘all clear’ signal?
The ‘all clear’ signal doesn’t mean anything if it comes from the Biden Administration.
Here is a video of what can happen when railcars full of flammable materials are involved in a fire and catastrophically fail.
Thanks for the link
“have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the carrier, Norfolk Southern, to set up health monitoring”
I’m sure this exasperates the feds. How many of these people are vaxxed, and thus likely doomed anyway?
Rail is efficient and functions very well 99%+ of the time. We tend to focus on the very few stories where it does not. One factor here is probably staffing levels in rail which was one main issue of the recent labor dispute.
That said the lack of transparency in the incident here is a far bigger concern IMO. When any threat occurs then release the information that is known immediately. That may mean that uncomfortable questions get asked about timeline for cleanup or timeline for return to evacuated area that cannot be answered in the first briefing. Tough, be willing to state you don’t know and will provide follow up when you do know.
Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg stayed hush on the massive train derailment that occurred in Ohio this month. It’s not serious enough to warrant his attention.
Root cause? Sounds like an assignment for Kamala.
Through incompetence assets of the United States government nuked one of the 50 states.
While the nuking was done by chemical weaponry instead of by atomic weaponry it was done.
This has to become a major issue on our side. The EPA showed up to tell residents to drink the poisoned drinking water.
‘…railroads have eliminated roughly one-third of their workers over the past six years.
inspectors used to have about two minutes to inspect every railcar. Now they only get roughly 30 to 45 seconds to check each car.”
So, treating people like bio-actuators for The System, vs. skills and intelligence on site to adapt to what happens. They don’t consider people on the ground as bringing their own observation, understanding, or solution to bear, ever. Sad.
This is how you get supply chains that collapse with one port, or route, or producer; brittle energy systems, no baby formula, and Alien Asian spy-FOs floating over the country for a week. (I won’t give them “it was strategery.” They’ve mucked up too hard, too many times.) Etc.
This happens. This is a thing that happens.
They’ve thrown mitigation out the window. Indeed, right or wrong — I’m going with “right” — burn the stuff-guys are getting scrutiny because he, she, they *did anything at all.” Sad.
But was the train running on time?