Ohio derailment: fire is out but fears still spark
Things after the massive derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, US, seem to be going from bad to worse. The citizens in the area may be dealing with contaminated air and water, while Norfolk Southern, the company operating the train, might have to pay for cleanup costs. Moreover, the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) identified the cause of the accident, which may have started 20 miles before the accident location.
On the evening of Friday 3 February, 38 out of a 150-wagon convoy derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, damaging 12 additional wagons. Out of the 50 wagons that were invovled, 11 (and not 10 like previously thought) were carrying hazardous goods, some of which leaked into the city river and storm drains. The vinyl chloride contained in five containers was resealed and burned by the competent authorities, sparking fears of long-term side effects on the population.
The NSTB identified the cause of the accident
NTSB investigators claim that a surveillance video shows “a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment”. Video footage shown by US news show Rush Hour shows one of the convoy’s wheelsets being on fire already 32 kilometres from the site of the accident. The wheelset identified by the Board will be now sent to Washington DC and examined at the NTSB Materials Laboratory.
Once all the railcars will be decontaminated, NTSB inspectors will return to the site and examine them. The tank cars are currently being decontaminated. Once the process is complete, NTSB investigators will return to Ohio to complete a thorough examination of the tank cars. The Board will also examine the top fitting of the tank cars containing vinyl chloride, including the relief valves. The NTSB also said that a preliminary report is expected to be published in two weeks.
EPA: testing the air and submitting claims with Norfolk Southern
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been constantly monitoring the quality of the air since its officials arrived on the site. Since 13 February, however, as of February 14, the EPA discontinued air monitoring for the phosgene and hydrogen chloride community air monitoring. Because the fire caused by the vinyl chloride went out on 8 February, the Agency claimed that “the threat of vinyl chloride fire producing phosgene and hydrogen chloride no longer exists”. Monitoring for other chemicals is nonetheless continuing.
EPA has been inspecting over 450 residents’ houses, on a voluntary basis, to check the air quality. ”No detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified”, the Agency specified. Residents in the area grew concerned when multiple episodes of animals dying occurred in the days following the accident and the controlled burning of chemicals. As the Insider mentioned, locals reported fish, chickens, and one fox being dead in the aftermath of the accident and think there is a link. The owner of the chickens claimed her animals were fine just right before the controlled burn.
EPA Region 5, EPA’s branch overviewing Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and 35 Tribes, has issued a general notice of potential liability letter to Norfolk Southern. In the letter, EPA claims that Norfolk Southern might be deemed a potentially responsible party (PRP). PRPs “may be required to perform cleanup actions to protect the public health, welfare, or the environment. PRPs may also be responsible for costs incurred by EPA in cleaning up the Site”, as the letter pointed out. EPA said that materials from the accident were found in quite a large area, even in the Ohio river, almost 30 kilometres south of East Palestine. The Agency gave Norfolk Southern a one-day-ultimatum, from the day the letter is received, to agree to carry out or pay for cleanup costs and response activities.
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