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Small Town Explosion: What Really Happened in East Palestine?

It was over one year ago that a train in East Palestine, Ohio derailed and caused an explosion, waking residents in the small town. The length of time since the explosion occurred is important to note, as is the contents of the train, affecting those that were unfortunate enough to live nearby. 

On February 3rd 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, with five of the train’s carriages carrying vinyl chloride, a chemical used in the production of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). PVC is a plastic and is one of the first discovered as well as one of the most widely used across the globe. PVC is used in many products that are commonly used from piping in construction to packaging. Vinyl Chloride is also a known carcinogen. Often the production of this substance is in lower income communities, threatening the health of the surrounding environments and the health of the people living there. 

Following the explosion of the train, the chemical was released into the atmosphere thanks to the power and ferocity of the eruption. Residents of the area experienced symptoms from the chemical release such as sore eyes and throats, despite federal and local officials at the time declaring the area as safe after a couple of days.

Even though the incident received global media attention, added to environmental and campaigning organisation’s concerns about the safety for the residents, families are still not receiving any information about the health of their air, soil and water. This is despite the fact that the chemical released is known to cause symptoms of nausea and cancer for those unlucky enough to come into close contact.

Associated health risks

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers vinyl chloride as a Group 1 carcinogen. To offer context, the well known harmful loft insulator, asbestos, is also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that it is proven to cause cancers such as liver cancer, leukaemia and cancer of the brain and lungs. There is also no safe level of exposure to vinyl chloride, putting humans at risk when in contact with the chemical. This has led to people living near the train crash site continuing to drink bottled water as they fear for their future health.

What can be done? 

The good news is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is beginning the process to prioritise the assessment of vinyl chloride amongst five other known toxic chemicals. The downside is that this is a lengthy process and the residents of the train disaster could argue that it has taken them far too long. 

Plastic campaigning organisations and campaigners alike are worried that another East Palestine, Ohio train disaster is on the horizon. It may not take the form or shape of a derailing train, but we may see similar spills and accidents occurring thanks to the toxic chemicals used in plastic production. If vinyl chloride can be banned, we may see the derailing of the entire plastic chemical lifecycle in our lifetimes. 

In order to move the EPA’s assessment along, please join others in urging Congress to support the U.S. EPA’s decision to assess the safety of vinyl chloride and push for an outright ban. If you live in the U.S. click here to email your members of Congress about this directly.

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Large Explosion - Image by ds-grafikdesign (ST ref: 1293)

Chemistry vials combining - Image by Alex Kondratiev (ST ref: 12270)


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