Chemical Pollution from East Palestine Train Wreck Blanketed Third of the Country, Study Reveals

East Palestine Train Derailment
by Jake Smith


Chemical pollution emitting from the East Palestine, Ohio, train crash in 2023 rained down on 16 different states, according to a study released on Wednesday.

A Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and crashed in East Palestine in February 2023, sending plumes of black smoke rising over Ohio and Pennsylvania. The smoke carried the chemicals and polluted 16 states, spreading over roughly 540,000 square miles of land, according to a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.

DCNF-logo“I didn’t expect to see an impact this far out,” David Gay, lead author of the study, told The Washington Post. “There’s more going on here than most people would have guessed, including me.”

The chemicals emitted from the crash rained down in regions of the Midwest and East Coast, affecting states including Tennessee, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New England and South Carolina, according to the study. Individuals located or living closer to the crash reported various health effects, including rashes, headaches and nausea.

Chemical concentrations detected further out from the crash weren’t “toxic, but are pretty unusual at a lot of places,” Gay told the Post. Marine and plant life could still suffer adverse effects, however.

“It’s not death and destruction. It’s fairly low concentrations, but they are very high relative to the normal that we typically see — some of the highest we’ve measured in the last ten years,” Gay told the Post.

The study sheds light on the most nuanced details of the crash, but it is difficult to know what the long-term effects will have on the environment in East Palestine, according to Juliane Beier, a leading expert on the effects of vinyl chloride, one of the chemicals being carried by the train.

“I think we should be concerned,” Beier told the Post.

Vinyl chloride is a highly flammable colorless gas used in the production of a plastic called PVC, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Certain levels of exposure to vinyl chloride can cause long-term adverse health effects, nerve damage, cancer or death.

After the train crashed in February 2023, state and federal emergency services were left scrambling to contain the fallout as civilians sheltered in place. National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy confirmed in March that the controlled burn that was performed on the wreckage of the train to prevent an explosion was unnecessary, and actually exacerbated the toxic chemical release into the atmosphere.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order several months after the crash for federal emergency services to appoint a Disaster Recovery Coordinator to help the East Palestine community recover. Biden’s Department of Justice sued Norfolk Southern in March for the accident and settled for $310 million in May.

Biden was frequently criticized for waiting over a year to visit East Palestine. When he did finally visit in February 2024, he met with the community for roughly two hours, before jet-setting off to Delaware, one of his frequented vacation destinations. Former President Donald Trump visited East Palestine and delivered water and food to the community shortly after the crash.

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Jake Smith is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.



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