Facts About Vinyl Chloride: The East Palestine Train Derailment

On February 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, about fifty cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed while it was traveling through the area. Of those fifty cars, ten contained hazardous chemicals like butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, and vinyl chloride.

The incident quickly raised health and environmental concerns for those residing in the surrounding areas. So, you can continue reading below as we provide some more information about the chemical vinyl chloride, and discuss how serious the East Palestine train derailment may be due to its effects on the environment and the living conditions in the area.

What is Vinyl Chloride?

Before we discuss the recent incident that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, let’s first dive deeper into what vinyl chloride is.

Vinyl chloride is often used to make polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is a commonly used plastic in pipes, cable coatings, and car parts. However, it is a hazardous chemical and carcinogen that becomes a colorless and flammable gas at room temperature.

How Serious is the Incident?

Since returning to East Palestine, some have reported a burning feeling in their eyes, low-grade headaches, animals growing ill or dying, and a strong odor akin to bleach still present throughout the area.

Experts point out that vinyl chloride can break down within a few days from sunlight exposure, and convert to other harmful substances like formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid. People who breathe or drink vinyl chloride can face a number of health risks, like dizziness and headaches. Long-term exposure to the chemical can cause liver damage, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.

Additionally, the EPA has monitored the area for other toxic substances like phosgene and hydrogen chloride, which are present when vinyl chloride is burned. Phosgene exposure can lead to eye irritation, dry burning throat, and vomiting, and hydrogen chloride exposure can cause irritation to the skin, nose, eyes, and throat.

Taking this into account, there is still cause for concern even after residents have been welcomed back. However, experts have pointed out that the side effects of exposure to these types of hazardous chemicals largely depend on the concentration and length of the exposure.

What Do the Officials Say?

Local officials have claimed that the air and water in East Palestine are both safe, and the EPA reported that they don’t have “any levels of concern” in East Palestine as of February 12. However, it is expected that thousands of fish have perished as a result of the toxic chemicals spilling from the derailment, as estimated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

From a voluntary indoor air screening program that was offered, the 291 homes first screened by the EPA as of February 12th did not have any vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride detected.

This is an evolving story, so further updates to the cause of the derailment and its effects on the community are sure to be provided at a future time.

Written by Bailey Schramm in partnership with Fed Steel piping distribution.