East Palestine residents question if they are being told the truth


On Friday, Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, while many residents were asleep, fire departments were called to the scene of a train derailment. Traveling from Madison, Illinois to the train yard in Conway, Pennsylvania, the Norfolk Southern train derailed and caught fire. Many fire departments in and around the area were called to help. 

When cars on the train caught fire, it did not take much longer before the train was officially derailed, causing 50 of the 150 cars to burn for days. Quickly, officials discovered five of the cars were carrying hazardous materials. Materials such as vinyl chloride were being released from the cars. Residents within a mile radius were told to leave as soon as possible. Quickly leaving, no one was sure what was going to happen next. 

The town was filled with flames and smoke as the cars continued to burn. Fire departments from many areas such as Beaver County, Lawrence County, Washington County and even volunteers from Pine Run Fire Department were of assistance to this accident. 

As the weekend continued, the fire was still out of control. Heating up the cars to unbearable temperatures, they had to do something. In order to avoid the cars from exploding, the governor of Ohio decided it would be best to do a controlled release of the toxic chemicals on Feb. 6. The issue, however, does not result from the vinyl chloride, but rather from the byproducts of the chemical. 

When vinyl chloride is mixed with water, it turns into three different things; hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Hydrochloric acid in contact with the skin can cause chemical burns, and contact with the eyes could result in blindness. At high concentrations, it may even be fatal. Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen and short-term exposure can be fatal. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and eczema. Overall, when vinyl chloride is mixed with water, the results are never good.

“I would say since she [her older sister] has a seven month old then it was harder because she had to evacuate her house and use bottled water instead of tap for everything,” Jenna Haskey said. 

The controlled release of the vinyl chloride was decided to be the best option. However, many people with experience in the chemistry field can attest that this should not have been the first option. The five train cars that were on the verge of explosion needed to be taken care of. In the case that the cars would have exploded, shrapnel would have been blown in every direction up to a mile away. On the other hand, burning the vinyl chloride chemical was also not asafe option. 

When burned, vinyl chloride produces hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and traces of phosgene, according to the CDC. Hydrogen chloride, while on its own is not very harmful to humans, turns into hydrochloric acid when mixed with water. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas, which can lead to headache, weakness, chest pain and other flu-like symptoms. Phosgene is a chemical that was used heavily as a choking agent during World War I. This gas causes eye irritation, dry burning throat, difficulty breathing and fatality if inhaled. Of all the chemicals used during the war, phosgene accounted for the most deaths.  

The question remains: is it truly safe to return back? Although the officials have stated it is safe, many residents have noticed that everything seems off since they have returned. Wildlife and pets are acting differently. The water sources have what looks like oil in it. Many fish and other animals have died, along with people experiencing headaches, sore throats and a few others have noticed chemical burns on their skins. 

Many people not living in or around East Palestine have suggested that the residents leave. However, this is not always an option. Many residents cannot afford to just pack up and leave. Many who wanted to sell their homes are facing rapid property value decreases. As of right now, there are too many unknowns to determine what would be the best option for the families and individuals living in East Palestine. The only thing that can be done is for the governor and other officials to not leave residents in the dark and ensure they are doing what is best for the community as a whole.