By Mimi Nguyen Ly
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio, on Saturday.
The Clark County Emergency Management Agency asked residents within 1,000 feet of the incident to shelter in place “out of an abundance of caution,” it said in a post on Facebook. The shelter-in-place order was lifted later, according to an updated Facebook post at 2:15 a.m. Sunday.
The derailment took place at Ohio 41 near the Prime Ohio Business Park, according to the agency, which asked all locals who need the highway to “find alternate routes.”
Local and state first responders confirmed that no hazardous materials were found at the train derailment site in Clark County.
About 20 of the 212 cars derailed. Four tankers were identified to contain non-hazardous materials—two had a small amount of Diesel Exhaust Fluid and the other two had small amounts of Polyacrylamide Water Solution.
The Springfield Twp. Fire Department responded to the scene as well as the Clark County Hazmat team.
There was no indication of any injuries or risk to public health, they said.
A crew from the owner/operator of the railway Norfolk Southern, the Clark County Hazmat team, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency each independently examined the crash site and verified there was no evidence of spillage.
The derailment is not in an area with a protected water source, meaning that there is no risk to public water systems or private wells, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
More than 1,500 residents found themselves without power in Clark County due to downed power lines in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
The Clark County Emergency Management Agency said that as of 8:50 p.m. local time it is “unclear how long it will take before power is restored to nearby residents.”
Ohio Edison is working to restore power in the area.
Trail Derailment in East Palestine
The Springfield derailment comes about a month after another train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on the evening of Feb. 3.
The train was carrying 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride in five cars. The substance is a known carcinogen and is highly flammable. It is used to make PVC pipes and other products. The National Cancer Institute notes that it has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver. Crews burned the chemicals in a controlled release on Feb. 6, over fears the vinyl chloride would explode.
The move created a plume of dark smoke of various toxic materials that spread over the town.
Federal and state officials have repeatedly asserted it’s safe for evacuated residents to return to the area and that air testing in the town and inside hundreds of homes hasn’t detected any concerning levels of contaminants. The state said the local municipal drinking water system is safe, and bottled water is available for those with private wells.
But people have expressed ongoing concerns and questions over the health and environmental fallout. Locals have reported a spate of health issues, including unusual illnesses, and some said their animals have died. There have been thousands of animal deaths in the area, including fish, chickens, foxes, and cats.
On Feb. 10, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Norfolk Southern that at least four other potentially hazardous chemicals were found in the air, soil, or water surrounding the site of the train wreck. The chemicals were ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, and butyl acrylate.
Murray McBride, a soil and crop scientist at Cornell University, said that vinyl chloride would have broken down and dissipated in the air over a day or two, but may persist in soil and water. In an article published on Feb. 15, he advised farmers and residents near the crash to test their soil and water.
“Vinyl chloride is highly mobile in soils and water and can persist for years in groundwater,” McBride said.
“It is advisable that farmers and other residents in this area test their wells over the next few months at least for the presence of the spilled chemicals including vinyl chloride, in order to protect the health of humans and livestock.
“Because the combustion of vinyl chloride that resulted from the accident may have created highly toxic dioxins, surface soils downwind of the spill site should be tested for dioxin levels particularly where food crops are to be grown.”
Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that are highly toxic. The World Health Organization calls dioxins environmental pollutants that “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are created unwittingly, mainly as by-products of industrial manufacturing processes, but can also result from natural processes like volcanic eruptions and forest fires, the WHO stated.
The EPA on March 2 ordered (pdf) Norfolk Southern to begin testing the area of the crash site for dioxins.
“If dioxins are found in the area including East Palestine, EPA will share the information with the public, determine whether the level of contaminants found poses any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment and direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed,” the agency stated.