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Toxic fumes, health concerns, and environmental damage are growing in East Palestine, Ohio, after a train derailment last week. On Feb. 3, around 50 cars of a Norfolk Southern train went off track, and 10 of the derailed cars contained hazardous chemicals like vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate.

Source: ABC News/Youtube

The derailment resulted in a fire that burned for days, and residents of East Palestine were asked to evacuate as a precaution. On Monday, Feb. 6, a “controlled release” of the hazardous chemicals caused a large plume of black smoke. Since the evacuation order was lifted on Wednesday, there have been reports of people experiencing a burning sensation in their eyes, animals falling ill, and a strong odor lingering in the town.

The Columbiana County Health Department reassures residents that the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink in East Palestine, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring the air quality. However, the agency released a list of the toxic chemicals that were in the derailed cars, including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, which can cause a variety of short and long-term side effects. Vinyl chloride is particularly concerning since it is a carcinogen that becomes a gas at room temperature. The chemical can cause dizziness and headaches, and long-term exposure can lead to liver damage. Breathing or drinking vinyl chloride can also cause a variety of health risks.

Residents of East Palestine have filed lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, accusing the company of negligence and demanding the company fund court-supervised medical screenings for serious illnesses that may be caused by exposure to those chemicals. As a precaution, the EPA is conducting a voluntary indoor air screening program in homes in East Palestine.

Karen Dannemiller, a professor at Ohio State University who studies indoor air quality, recommends that residents wipe down surfaces, especially areas that collect dust and wash items that absorb smells, such as bedsheets and curtains. She also advises vacuuming carefully in short bursts to try to prevent contaminants from moving into the air. The harmful effects of these toxic chemicals largely depend on the concentration and exposure, and indoor spaces can be an important point of exposure.

The train derailment and subsequent chemical release in East Palestine is an alarming reminder of the importance of safety regulations and environmental protection. We must call on companies and officials to prioritize safety and take proactive steps to prevent such accidents in the future. As individuals, we can Support efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and advocate for stronger safety regulations. Together, we can work towards a safer and healthier future for our communities.

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