Several months have passed since the tragic derailing of a freight train in East Palestine, OH. But even months later, the citizens of this town are suffering the health effects of toxic chemicals that were spilled during the wreck.
When the freight train crashed on February 3, 2023, the chemicals that it carried contaminated the water, soil, and air in the area. Right now, experts still don’t know how long the area will remain a health hazard for local residents.
The world has heard all about the sad aftermath of the East Palestine train wreck, but do you know what actually happened? Here’s an overview.
Early on February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight car was traveling with a massive load of plastic pellets when an axel began to overheat. This caused the rail car to overheat to the extent that the temperature started to melt the plastic pellets.
Two defective detectors failed to notice that the area was hot enough to melt plastic. The bearing temperature gradually grew, and by the time the train went through a third detector, the temperature had grown high enough to trigger an alarm. It was 253 degrees above the target range.
The engineer immediately reacted to the alarm by hitting the brakes harder – he had already been braking because of another train ahead. But at that point, it was already too late. The wheels and bearing had deteriorated from the heat, and when the wheel bearing failed, its car — Car 23 — derailed.
In all, 38 freight cars went off the tracks in East Palestine. Eleven of those cars were tank cars that carried toxic, flammable chemicals that damaged the cars around them and spread fire everywhere.
Another five freight cars carried over 115,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which is highly carcinogenic and extremely flammable. Local authorities were worried because some of the freight cars were still getting hotter, and an explosion of vinyl chloride would be devastating. To minimize the risk, workers dug ditches to pour the vinyl chloride into. They planned to burn the vinyl chloride after the rest of the train wreck was cleaned up.
Except the chemical wasn’t destroyed. In fact, by the time officials were ready to deal with it, most of it had already seeped into the environment, including the air, the soil, and the water. The rest would soon break down into metabolites, which also pose dangers to the public.
Not long after the wreck occurred, residents of East Palestine started complaining of health problems. Their health issues were nonspecific, including throat pain, dizziness, nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Some East Palestine residents get so sick that they go to the emergency room.
Local residents weren’t the only ones affected by the wreck. Nearby bodies of water took on the toxic chemicals, and they became toxic. To date, estimates say that at least 40,000 aquatic animals (including fish) died from the chemical spill.
According to Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, the derailment might not have happened if one of the earlier two detectors had gone off in time. That would have given the engineer time to stop the train and figure out the overheating. Stopping sooner would have helped to keep the bearing intact that caused the derailment.
After the East Palestine train wreck, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the entirety of the wreck, including the water, soil, and debris.
The residents of the nearby area were evacuated immediately, and they were reimbursed for the expense of finding a place to stay. The Norfolk Southern Assistance Center became a hub of resources for people evacuating.
There was also a health assessment clinic designated to help the residents of East Palestine who experienced health problems after the wreck. However, the state has not yet released details about the health effects of the chemicals that were released. To date, the railroad has not compensated many victims for their medical care or injuries.
In addition to dealing with personal injury claims, Norfolk Southern could also face fees of $70,000 each day if it doesn’t comply with delivering a detailed plan about the clean-up process. It must also reimburse the EPA for the cost of cleaning residents’ homes, public places, and businesses. Finally, it has to attend public meetings to discuss its progress on the cleanup.
As of July 2023, five months after the wreck, over 1 million gallons of contaminated water has been removed from the waterways near the site. The state’s governor is also in the process of removing the railroad tracks to remove the soil underneath the tracks, which is also contaminated.
The East Palestine train wreck emphasizes how a business’s negligence can change your life forever. If you have been harmed by a railroad accident or due to chemicals spilled in a railroad derailment, you should seek help. Even if you’re not sure that the train caused your illnesses, you may still want to consult with a personal injury attorney.
At Satterley & Kelley, PLLC, we focus on helping our clients obtain compensation after railroad injuries, commercial truck accidents, and due to asbestos exposure. Want to know if we can help you or your family? Then, contact us for a free consultation today. Let’s have a conversation about your options.