Ohio EPA still monitoring water following toxic train derailment

East Ohio Rail Accident Aerial Photo
Photo of the East Palestine train derailment site taken by the US EPA's ASPECT (Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology) system on Feb. 7, 2023. Photo credit: United States Environmental Protection Agency

Emergency response workers have removed just over one million gallons of contaminated water from puddles and ditches near the scene of Ohio’s recent train derailment that led to a controlled release of vinyl chloride, according to state officials.

The release occurred on February 3 at 9 p.m., when a train with cars carrying hazardous substances derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The 38-car derailment resulted in a fire, as well as concerns over air and water contamination.

The controlled release occurred in the small village of nearly 5,000 to avoid a potentially toxic explosion filled with shrapnel.

A chemical plume of butyl acrylate in the Ohio River is currently located near Gallipolis, Ohio, and is headed to Huntington, West Virginia, said state officials. The chemical is currently present at levels below three parts per billion, well below the 560 parts per billion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers hazardous. No vinyl chloride has been detected in the Ohio River.

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Despite the low levels, more than 3,500 fish have been found dead in local waterways, including the Ohio River.

Butyl acrylate’s water-solubility makes it harder to contain because it is very soluable in water.

“For this reason, some butyl acrylate slipped beyond mitigation dams and booms and into the Ohio River. Aeration points have been added to further remove the butyl acrylate from the water, which has been effective in decreasing chemical levels,” states an announcement from the Ohio Governor’s Office.

According to state EPA officials, the latest water sample results of the Ohio River by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission indicate no butyl acrylate is being detected. In addition, no vinyl chloride has been detected in the Ohio River.Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed the city’s water intake in the Ohio River ahead of anticipated contaminated water from the East Palestine train derailment.

For the East Palestine River, testing remains ongoing.

Ohio EPA, said a 1.3-mile section of Sulfur Run was actively being aerated to oxidize mild contamination from the chemicals.

Additionally, tests of tap water from the municipal system didn’t show any chemicals at levels that would pose a health hazard. Free testing of water from private wells in the impacted area will also be offered by the independent contractor hired by the railroad. Because private water wells may be closer to the surface than the municipal water wells, the Ohio EPA recommends that those who receive drinking water from private water wells schedule an appointment for well water testing by an independent consultant.

Other chemicals of concern at the site include phosgene and hydrogen chloride, which are released when vinyl chloride breaks down; butyl acrylate; ethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate; and 2-ethylhexyl acrylate, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To date, 3,150 cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed from the area of the derailment.

Air quality samples in the area of the wreckage and in nearby residential neighborhoods have consistently showed readings at points below safety screening levels for contaminants of concern.

EPA officials also tested the air inside 474 homes for the presence of VOCs.

Following the train derailment, hundreds of residents were evacuated. They were given the all-clear to return to their homes February 8 after air monitoring in East Palestine did not detect any elevated chemicals of concern.

After returning home, some residents have complained of rashes, sore throats, nausea and headaches. There is also a lingering smell that some have compared to hair treatment chemicals. The symptoms are consistent with previously reported symptoms from exposure to these VOCs.

Governor Mike DeWine sent a letter to the CDC requesting that they immediately send medical experts to East Palestine to evaluate and counsel members of the community who have questions and may be experiencing symptoms.

“We know that the science says that East Palestine is safe, but we also know that residents are very worried,” said DeWine in a statement. “They are asking themselves ‘Is my headache just a headache? Or is it a result of the chemical spill? Are other medical symptoms caused by the spill?’ Those are very legitimate questions and residents deserve answers.”

DeWine said a request for medical experts from the Department of Health and Human Services had been granted, and officials would help prop up a clinic for patients.

The Norfolk Southern Railway Company operates the train that derailed.

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