Ohio train derailment shines light on railroad safety

After years of ignoring the negative effects of railroad industry deregulation, the public is once again paying attention to rail safety following the February 2023 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train that caused catastrophic toxic contamination in East Palestine, Ohio.

The Norfolk Southern train was carrying more than 100,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals used in making plastics, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and benzene. With the highly flammable vinyl chloride leaking from the train cars, authorities attempted a “controlled burn” in an effort to prevent a catastrophic explosion. However, this controlled burn released a large cloud of vinyl chloride into the air, spreading toxic particles throughout the surrounding community.

The contamination resulted in the deaths of poultry and livestock and raised serious questions about long-term health risks for residents.

Chemical Contamination Is Still Evident in East Palestine

Although the community has been assured it is safe to return home, many remain worried about health risks from exposure to the chemicals, and many have reported symptoms of chemical exposure. In addition, a new chemical contaminant likely created by the combination of chemicals released in the train derailment has been detected in the air. This chemical, acrolein, has been linked to lung damage and nasal tumors. Andrew Whelton, a professor of environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, has also found elevated levels of benzene and butyl acrylate inside buildings in the area.

What is vinyl chloride?

Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen linked to liver, lung and brain cancers, as well as lymphoma and leukemia. When burned, it releases toxic chemicals, including hydrogen chloride and phosgene. Butyl acrylate and benzene are also known to cause cancer and other short- and long-term health problems.

Train Derailments Common Following Deregulation

Investigators say the East Palestine derailment was caused by human and mechanical failures that allowed an overheated wheel bearing to go unnoticed until it was too late. What’s shocking is that what happened in East Palestine has become a common occurrence thanks to deregulation and the failure of corporations to invest in safety.

Some of the negative effects of deregulation include:

  • The Federal Railroad Administration estimates that nearly 1,200 trains derail per year, an average of 3 per day.
  • Deregulation has reduced staff on trains and shortened rail car inspections.
  • An Obama-era rule to require electric brakes instead of air brakes on freight trains hauling hazardous materials was repealed in 2018.
  • Trains have been getting longer, as rail companies seek to increase profits on train runs. Longer trains are heavier and take longer to stop when there is a problem.

What are the symptoms of chemical inhalation?

When you inhale a chemical, you may experience watery eyes and a burning sensation in your nose, throat, or lungs. You may also get a headache, feel lightheaded or even faint. Some people experience feelings of anxiety after inhaling chemicals. You may see or smell the chemical, or you may not, as many hazardous chemicals are clear and odorless.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims’ alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 40 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving semiconductor and electronics manufacturing, pesticides, and energy production. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations who put them in danger. Call us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.