By Abby Chambers
A Norfolk Southern general merchandise freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3, resulting in a fire and an ongoing safety investigation. 11 of the 38 rails cars that derailed contained toxic chemicals that burned as a fire broke out. As officials report that the incident was involuntary, no injuries or fatalities were reported.
As the 11 derailed cars carrying hazardous chemicals burned in the fire, they released a large amount of vinyl chloride into the air, water, and ground of the surrounding area in Ohio.
An explanation of the catastrophe detailed that a burning wheel bearing on its 23rd railcar overheated, according to the NTSB. Although the alarm was triggered and an emergency braking system went into effect, signs of a derailment were already visible to the crew on board.
In a press conference, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said “it was the combination of the hot axle and the plastic pellets which started the initial fire.”
“You cannot wait until they fail. Problems need to be identified thoroughly so something catastrophic like this does not occur again,” she added.
With officials concerned for the safety of the nearby residents, an evacuation order for five days was released to those in the immediate area. Since their return, reports of headaches and rashes have been made. According to The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, around 3,500 fish had died following the derailment in the nearby area.
With concerned citizens, an investigation was launched into the safety protocols and guidelines of Norfolk Southern. While the train was traveling through Ohio prior to the derailment, it encountered three trackside detectors. Trackside sensors detect issues as trains pass along.
The first one detected that the temperature of the wheel bearing was 38 degrees fahrenheit above the surrounding areas. The next one recorded a temperature that was 103 degrees higher than the ambient one.
Finally, the detector that set off the alarm recorded a temperature of 253 above the surrounding environments. This third sensor was the only one that reached a temperature applicable to set off the alarm.
Emily Galletti, a graduate student at UT, has family near East Palestine, Ohio.
“Everytime I go visit my family up in Ohio, we drive right through East Palestine. It is so sad to see that the surrounding environment was affected to such a harmful degree. I think this could have been prevented with more rigorous safety guidelines,” she said.
Norfolk Southern has been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the catastrophic results of the incident.