The chemicals spilled during the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio


thunderlips36, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Smoke from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Artemis Statler, Commentary Editor

On February 3rd, 2023, a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. 38 of the train’s 149 cars came off the tracks, 11 of which contained hazardous chemicals. These chemicals included vinyl chloride (VCM) and butyl acrylate. 

Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC, a stable and nontoxic polymer that is commonly used around the world. In its base form, VCM is a flammable gas and carcinogen, meaning that the exposure to the chemical can cause cancer. According to the NFPA, VCM is a class 1A Flammable Liquid, the most volatile liquid. VCM has a flash point of -108.4 degrees Fahrenheit, causing it to rapidly transform into a gas when released into the atmosphere. The gas can be easily ignited and releases hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide when burned. 

Butyl acrylate, while less dangerous, can cause headaches, irritation when touched or inhaled, nausea, and is also flammable, producing poisonous vapors when ignited. These vapors are heavier than air, and can travel far from the source of ignition. Some released vapors are also flammable, and can be ignited far from the initial source, starting a secondary fire that can be hard to put out without proper training and equipment. 

While these are only two of the chemicals that were spilled in East Palestine, these two are combustible and toxic, causing the area surrounding the spill to become contaminated. This contamination greatly affects the wildlife and the people living in the area. 

In the weeks after the derailment, efforts have been made to clean the area. Some efforts were counterproductive, such as igniting the dangerous VCM, releasing toxic vapors and black smoke into the air. Hazardous material is being transported to hazardous waste sites, including Grafton, OH and Roachdale, IN. It is unknown what the long term effects of the contamination will be and how exposure to the chemicals will affect the residents in the area.