According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railroad freight train, comprised of around 150 freight cars, 20 of which contained hazardous materials, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The incident occurred at approximately 8:55 p.m. and was reported to the National Response Center at 10:53 p.m. by Norfolk Southern.
Of the train’s 150 cars, 50 of them were affected by the derailment, including 10 of those carrying hazardous materials, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Federal investigators reported that the incident was caused by a mechanical issue with a rail car axle.
According to the EPA, there are several known toxins that were released into the environment at the site of the derailment. These include:
- vinyl chloride.
- butyl acrylate.
- ethylhexyl acrylate.
- ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.
Q: Do I need to work with an Ohio based Attorney?
A: If you have been injured due to this incident, you DO NOT need to work with an Ohio based lawyer.
Nationally recognized attorneys from all over the country are working collaboratively with Ohio law firms to ensure injured parties receive the best possible representation.
Responders discovered contaminated runoff emanating from the compromised railcars, flowing into the nearby Sulphur Run and Leslie Run streams. Norfolk Southern contractors installed underflow dams and booms to restrict the flow of the contaminated water. However, as of February 13th, the EPA reported that “materials released during the incident were observed and detected in samples from Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, and the Ohio River.”
Contractors working for Norfolk Southern and the EPA have performed tests on the drinking water in the nearby areas, reporting it as safe to drink. However, at least one town, downstream of the derailment in West Virginia, detected butyl acrylate in the Ohio River and switched to an alternate supply source.
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has determined that at least 3,500 fish have died due to toxins in these waterways.
Residents are hoping for further independent testing of the water and are concerned about future impact on the groundwater as the toxins wash through the soil and possibly contaminate the many residential wells in the area.
Controlled Burn Off – Vinyl Chloride
On February 5th, Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, asked residents to leave the area due to the increasing risk of the rail cars exploding. By the next day, he and Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania had agreed to allow a controlled release and burn of the chemicals to avoid an explosion. In order to complete this, they ordered the immediate evacuation of any remaining residents in a 1-mile by 2-mile radius.
While officials warned that this process would send hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air, the controlled burn took place around 4:00 p.m. on February 6th, 2023. Hydrogen chloride is a yellowish to colorless gas with a strong odor which causes irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Hydrogen chloride is considered safe at 5 parts per million (ppm) for an eight-hour exposure.
Phosgene, on the other hand, is highly toxic. It is colorless with a strong odor and is known to cause breathing issues and vomiting. It was used as a weapon in World War I. During an 8-hour exposure, phosgene is considered safe at 0.1 ppm, or 0.2 ppm for a 15-minute exposure. When measuring phosgene levels inside people’s homes, exposure would need to be lower than 0.1 ppm, because residents often spend more than eight consecutive hours in their home environment.
On February 8th, despite many residents deciding not to return, DeWine, Shapiro, East Palestine fire chief and incident commander Keith Drabick and other officials from both states said East Palestine residents could safely return home. Those residents who have returned to their homes, even just to pick up some belongings, have stated that the odor is almost unbearable and they are concerned about the air quality despite assurances from the EPA and other officials.
Norfolk Southern Liability for Damages
In an attempt to prevent further contamination of downstream waters, contractors for Norfolk Southern installed a dam and water bypass at Sulphur Run.
A general notice of potential liability has been sent to Norfolk Southern from the EPA, detailing the areas where the company may be liable for damages and cleanup pertaining to the Ohio train derailment and subsequent release of toxic chemicals.
On February 13th, Norfolk Southern submitted its remedial action plan to the EPA, detailing how it has responded to the derailment so far and what further actions it proposes.
Concerns in Regard to Cancers and Other Health Conditions
While the EPA has stated that they are still unsure of all the chemicals the train was carrying, the list that is known is concerning. Vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and isobutylene are all irritants and can cause serious immediate effects. However, vinyl chloride is a very toxic substance with many known, life-altering health hazards.
After several years of exposure to vinyl chloride, individuals can experience damage to the nervous system, the immune system, and the skeletal system. It can also affect the lungs, liver, kidneys, nervous system, spleen and blood.
People exposed to levels of 1,000,000 ppb or more in air may have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Damage to male sperm-producing organs has occurred in laboratory animals.
According to the National Cancer Institute, vinyl chloride exposure is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), as well as primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.
Were You Affected by This Unfolding Environmental Disaster?
If you or your family members live within five miles of this train derailment and subsequent release of toxic vinyl chloride, or if you were evacuated due to this situation, you may be eligible for compensation. You may not yet realize the full effects of the toxic environment at home or your place of employment, but your doctor may recommend an examination that includes a blood test for toxic chemicals.
For those who have been exposed to these dangerous chemicals, either due to the spill or the plume of toxic smoke, it is vital for you to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney before agreeing to any type of settlement.
If you have suffered any type of injury, including burns, lacerations, exposure injuries such as difficulty breathing, headaches, coughing, vomiting, dizziness, burning throat, or body rash, even if it is reportedly mild, and you have seen a physician within two weeks of the exposure or the injury, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit for damages.
Contact Our Dedicated Attorneys at Van Wey, Metzler & Williams
Often in these types of situations, representatives from the at-fault party will attempt to get potential claimants to sign off on future litigation by providing some form of immediate payment. It is always in your best interest to reject any type of immediate payoff, as the extent of the damages and lasting health effects may not be known for months or even years.
Your best option is to reach out to a trusted, nationally-recognized law firm with years of experience taking large corporations and insurance companies to task for negligent and sometimes criminal behavior.
When you work with Van Wey, Metzler & Williams, you aren’t just working with personal injury lawyers, you are working with experienced attorneys who have made it their mission to seek justice for victims of wrongful injury, illness, and death. No one should know what it feels like to go through a tragedy that could have been prevented had others simply been more careful, but when these situations arise, Kay Van Wey and her team are here to help.
Our goal is always to achieve justice for victims of personal injury and help them obtain the compensation they deserve. If you, or someone you care about, has been impacted by this catastrophic occurrence, we invite you to reach out to our team and schedule a free consultation where we can help determine if you are eligible to file a claim. Call or fill out our contact form online today.