Hazmat Rail Cars Carrying Vinyl Chloride Derail in Ohio

Posted on 2/7/2023 by Nick Waldron

20 rail cars carrying hazardous materials left the tracks near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on Friday night as part of a larger derailment that started a massive fire and displaced nearly 2,000 people nearby. A total of fifty cars derailed just before 9 PM on Friday, February 3, including 14 carrying vinyl chloride—a flammable and toxic gas.

After the fire burned through the weekend, officials oversaw a controlled venting and incineration of vinyl chloride from five of the rail cars on Monday. Responders noted a drastic change in temperature in one of the rail cars on Sunday, which they warned could portend an explosion. The controlled release began with a single (anticipated) explosion, and was carried out to avoid a catastrophic tank failure. 

Officials implemented a shelter-in-place order for about 5,000 residents in the town of East Palestine, Ohio. The evacuation area was extended on Sunday, per a statement from Ohio Governor Mike Dewine

Hazmat Rail Cars Carrying Vinyl Chloride Derail in Ohio

The investigation is ongoing. According to the Mayor of East Palestine and the local Fire Chief, no injures have been reported and no structures were involved in the incident.

The train had a total of 153 cars—141 load, nine empty, and three engines. 20 of these cars were carrying hazardous materials, and 14 were specifically carrying vinyl chloride. The rail cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on a trip from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania.

Local Fire Chief Keith Drabick stated that, unless the safety features of the rail cars fail, the response team will not treat the site until the vinyl chloride burns off to a point deemed safe enough by US EPA and a contractor hired by the rail company. 

Drone monitoring has been done to determine what was inside the rail cars by reading the labels on the cars, and FAA enacted a no-fly zone to stop people from flying personal drones in the area.

Drone footage of the site: 


The local police arrested at least one individual for going around barricades to approach the emergency response scene. Leaders reiterated the importance of staying away from the scene so that fire and police officials can direct their resources efficiently.

Vinyl Chloride Exposure

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, exposure to vinyl chloride can cause weakness, exhaustion, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, frostbite, and is even associated liver cancers, and brain and lung cancers. Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC pipes, coatings, and packaging materials according to National Cancer Institute.

The Emergency Response

US EPA and Ohio EPA reported the air quality in the village was good—the air contamination was limited to the immediate area of the incident and fire. Drinking water should be unaffected, per Kurt Kollar, an Ohio Emergency Response official who explained that the towns drinking water does not source from any surface water. 

Efforts to dissolve contaminants have been put in place, including containment dams and booms that allow water to pass underneath while collecting and dissolving material from the surface. Responders then use high volume pumps to treat the water in place and remove dissolved contaminants. Waterways of any concern are being tested daily.

As of Monday morning, US EPA Emergency Response On-scene Coordinator James Justice noted that the results of air quality monitoring had been positive but the situation is dynamic—rail cars have not yet been assessed and the site is not stable. 

PA DEP is assisting with the situation, and the mayor told reporters that 68 entities from three states have acted in providing mutual and automatic aid.

Community Support

A family assistance center has been set up at the East Palestine City Park Community Center where the rail company will address affected families one-on-one. The Red Cross set up at a local shelter to provide health services to those in need as well as replacement medications that may have been forgotten at homes within the evacuation zone, according to Peggy Clark, Columbiana County EMA Director.

Tags: East Palestine, Ohio, hazmat by rail, hazmat incident, hazmat release, vinyl chloride

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