Train carrying hazardous materials derails in US, risk of “major explosion”
06 February 2023
A train derailed in Ohio, US on February 3 and caused a large fire to break out. A mandatory evacuation order was issued for a one-mile radius after around 50 train cars derailed, many of which were carrying hazardous materials.
Representative image: Shutterstock
The incident happened in East Palestine, a village located around 45 miles north east of Pittsburgh on the Ohio-Pennsylvania state border. The trains cars that derailed contained vinyl chloride, combustible liquids, butyl acrylate, benzene residue cars (cars that previously contained benzene), and non-hazardous products such as wheat, plastic pellets, malt liquors, and lube oil.
All train personnel managed to escape unharmed, although a large fire erupted and spread to several train cars. Footage recorded at the scene showed the significant fire producing a large plume of dark smoke that rose into the sky. Officials said that air monitoring began immediately and there was initially no risk to locals.
On February 5, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine released an urgent warning advising locals within one mile of the derailment to evacuate due to a “drastic temperature change” in a rail car that could cause a “catastrophic tanker failure”. Local officials said that while firefighters were working hard to prevent an explosion, there was a possibility that a blast could send shrapnel scattering in multiple directions and up to a mile away.
DeWine’s statement said that while most residents living within a one mile radius of the derailment had already evacuated, there were around 500 individuals refusing to leave their homes. The statement said these people were advised to leave immediately. A shelter-in-place order was imposed on the entire town of East Palestine, which has a population of 5,000, due to fears of chemicals being released into the air. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that there were a total of 20 train cars containing hazardous materials involved in the derailment. Five of these were carrying vinyl chloride, a chemical which has been linked to several forms of cancer.
Officials have not yet said what the cause of the derailment was. The Norfolk Southern train was travelling from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania and consisted of over 100 train cars. In a statement, Norfolk Southern said its team members were at the scene and would be assisted by multiple derailment and environmental contractors. In addition to working closely with first responders, the company said it was coordinating with federal, state and local agencies.
The NTSB will be the lead agency for providing updates on the incident.