top of page

Ohio Train Derailment Disaster: “Controlled” Burning of Substances Releasing Toxic Fumes Into Air

Megan Hayes | News Editor

On Friday, February 3rd, 2023 around 9pm, a train from the Norfolk Southern Railway derailed off of Main Track 1 in East Palestine, Ohio because of a mechanical failure of a wheel bearing. No fatalities or injuries were reported to have come from the incident, but this has very quickly become a frighteningly bigger issue as some of the train cars were carrying hazardous substances like vinyl chloride, an industrially created chemical which has a history of causing liver, brain, and lung cancer. Several other fumes from other chemicals were released as well, including butyl and glycol ethers, which are also industrial compounds and cause skin and eye irritation if inhaled. From this derailment, a fire was ignited, and quickly managed to cover most of eastern Ohio in thick smoke. Residents on both sides of the Ohio and Pennsylvania border and in surrounding areas were urged to evacuate by government officials as there was a panic about a possible explosion coming from the site of the accident. These fumes from the fire are now posing a greater threat as they have permeated both soil and water close to the surface of the surrounding area, as well as obviously being in the air where residents of the area are breathing it in.

Following this event, on Monday February 6th, emergency crews started a “controlled burn” of the toxic chemicals that had spilled and ignited in the derailment, causing toxic gases like hydrogen chloride and phosgene, both of which can cause harm when exposed to humans. Phosgene can be deadly in high quantities and was used for chemical warfare in World War I, and there seems to be a lack of concern about the possible effects this may have on the residents of the area. Following the release of gases in the air, there is uproar within the residents of Ohio as to why this controlled burn was started in the first place, and if it is genuinely safe for residents to remain in the area as local officials have given them an “all-clear” as of February 11th. Residents are reporting a pungent odor in the air as well as symptoms of burning eyes, headaches, nausea, and sudden illness. There has been little to no news coverage in the area, and conflicting reports and recommendations from local officials regarding the incident. The derailment has caused water pollution that has killed an estimated amount of 3,500 fish in rivers and bodies of water near East Palestine. Residents have also complained of finding dead animals in the area, as well as animals with eye and lung irritation. Mike DeWine, governor of Ohio, originally recommended that residents of Ohio stick to drinking bottled water for the time being out of an “abundance of caution”, but has now declared that tests conducted by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency showed no contamination of the area’s municipal water system, even after dead fish have been washing up near homes of residents.

Although this has been going on for almost three weeks, Governor DeWine has just recently requested additional help from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Health and Emergency Response Team, the CDC, and FEMA. Going forward, there is still little local news coverage, but this disaster is being covered by sources such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Insider, People, CNN and smaller sources and journalists. Residents of the area say that even though they have been told it is safe to go back, it does not seem it from the odor in the air and many are taking their belongings and staying out of the area. The future of this issue is uncertain, but there is growing attention being placed on this issue and the reasoning behind the methods that were used to “remedy” the spills of chemicals.

An addition to this incident is that reporters and journalists are apparently being arrested when covering details relating to the derailment. Evan Lambert, a reporter covering a live shot of Governor DeWine's press conference on the derailment, was arrested on scene for "disorderly conduct" at a news press conference. There is no clear reasoning for this, however, as footage and witnesses have testified that Lambert was not causing problems or interrupting the press conference of Governor DeWine, and stopped his live shot as soon as the Governor started speaking. Lambert was pinned to the ground by four officers, and reportedly said "I am doing my job," before being taken and placed in an Ohio jail for overnight holding. Lambert has since been released as this lays on the fine line of violating freedom of the press. Washington Bureau Chief of NewsNation Mike Viqueira stated that "It shocks me that law enforcement is that disdainful of the right of the press to report on the activities, comments and policies of public officials, especially in a crisis.” As far as the updates go, Lambert is not authorized to speak on charges as they were "still pending".


bottom of page