The 2023 Ohio Train Derailment Disaster

New York Times Image

New York Times Image

The 2023 Ohio train derailment occurred on February 3, 2023, at 8:55 p.m. when 38 cars of a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, United States. This train likely derailed due to “an overheated wheel bearing on a railcar” according to The Wall Street Journal. The train consisted of 141 loaded cars and 9-10 empty cars, for a total of around 151 cars weighing 18,000 tons. The train burned for more than two days, and several other railcars burned and released hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air. Residents of the area and area surrounding were ordered to stay inside or evacuate their homes if within the 1-by-2-mile range of the crash site. The evacuation was lifted on February 6, after the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reported that the air inside and outside the evacuation zone had returned to normal levels.


The derailed train was Norfolk Southern train 32N operating from the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis yard in Madison, Illinois, to Norfolk Southern’s Conway Yard in Conway, Pennsylvania, on the Fort Wayne Line. Abroad the train was an engineer, a conductor, and a conductor trainee. The train consisted of around 151 cars, 20 of which were carrying hazardous materials including, chloroethene (vinyl chloride), butyl acrylate, 2-ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol aminobutyl ether, isobutylene, combustible liquids, and benzene residue. According to various reports, the crew had tried to stop the train after wheel issue warnings occurred, but it became too late. There was no evidence of the train crew’s wrongdoing. These hazardous materials caused major damage to aquatic life in the area and could have caused more issues due to spillage into drains that lead to many major state water sources.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources stated that the chemical spill killed an estimated 3,500 small fish across 7.5 miles of streams. Material from the crash observed in storm drains was detected in samples from Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, and the Ohio River. On February 23, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources stated that the derailment potentially killed more than 43,000 fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and other marine animals. Fortunately, state officials have not yet seen deaths or other negative effects on animals living on land. A chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon University expressed concern about the potential production of dioxins during the burning of vinyl chloride while the deal of Milken Institute School of Public Health expressed her worry about residual vinyl chloride as well.






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