Ohio Officials Conduct Controlled Chemical Release to Prevent ‘Catastrophic Explosion’ After Train Derailment

east palestine
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

At a press conference Monday, Ohio officials announced they would perform a “controlled release” of five derailed train cars holding vinyl chloride Monday at 3:30 p.m. as they pose a threat of a “catastrophic explosion” that could send shrapnel as far as a mile. Residents within several miles of the derailment site in both Ohio and Pennsylvania have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

Some 50 train cars were involved in Friday’s derailment in East Palestine — situated on the Pennsylvania border — which resulted in a massive blaze, as the Associated Press noted. The fire continued “smoldering” Monday. While five of the cars contained vinyl chloride, another five also were transporting “hazardous materials.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) said at the press conference Monday that Norfolk Southern Railway company was planning to trigger a “controlled release” of the chemicals 3:30 p.m. One of the cars endured a “drastic temperature change” Sunday night creating potential for a major explosion, he noted in a Sunday press release. Monday’s “controlled release” puts nearby residents in both Ohio and Pennsylvania in danger of death or serious injury, DeWine said.

“The process involves using a small charge to blow a hole in the cars, allowing the material to go into a trench and burning it off before it’s released in the air,” the Associated Press reported, citing Scott Deutsch with Norfolk Southern rail. Deutsch is the Regional Manager Hazardous Materials at Norfolk Southern Corporation, according to a LinkedIn profile appearing to be his. 

DeWine emphasized that “[t]he vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars are currently unstable and could potentially explode causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes.” He and Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA) had been in communication all day and instructed residents to leave the one to two mile radius, seen below, where citizens are in harm’s way. 

“The controlled release of the toxic chemicals also has the potential to be deadly if inhaled. Those in the red area are facing grave danger of death if they are still in that area,” DeWine said. “Those living in the orange area are at risk of severe injury, including skin burns and serious lung damage.”

Law enforcement was making rounds through the area Monday ahead of the “controlled release” to encourage evacuations and aid with efforts. As of Sunday night, about 500 people “declined to leave their homes,” DeWine said in his release, but according to his remarks Monday, roughly 100 of those individuals decided to evacuate by late Sunday.

DeWine noted Monday that local officials had “been in consultation with the Defense Department” and “with the manufacturer of the product.” He also expressed that he and Shapiro had “had to weigh different risks with no great choices.” 

An axle issue is said to be behind the derailment, and no injuries were reported when the incident unfolded Friday, per the AP. 

Vinyl chloride is used in the production of certain plastic products, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that the chemical is associated with “Cancer; central nervous system effects; liver effects; blood effects; and flammability.”


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