The community of East Palestine, Ohio, was rocked by the derailment of a train full of toxic chemicals on Feb. 3. After the initial disaster, government officials and experts arrived at the scene to assess the damage.
As of March 28, more than 9,171 tons of contaminated soil and 8.6 million gallons of liquid waste has been shipped out of the city following the accident, according to a newsletter released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Though the government is handling the situation, many are worried about the long-term consequences of these chemicals on the environment. Even with the government’s swift response, several toxic organic chemicals got into the land and waterways, having a massively detrimental effect on wildlife. Nearly 43,000 animals were killed by the dangerous compounds, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Despite the massive dent in the wildlife population, Dr. Michael Nalbandian, associate professor of civil engineering, believes that while much life was destroyed, the government’s decisions mitigated the possibility of an explosion.
“Even though it’s not great to have incineration as your solution, it’s better than having it explode and having widespread dispersion of that pollutant,” Nalbandian said. “It was the best solution at the moment.”
Though chemicals like vinyl chloride had an immediate and drastic effect, Nalbandian is confident that there will be no lingering effects from the chemicals in streams and waterways, as they will dissipate soon.
“These organics will oxidize so they will break down into smaller organics,” Nalbandian said. “The idea is that you will end up with mineralization which is where they end up forming carbon dioxide and water molecules. They’re completely broken down through oxidation. Organic compounds are a very broad group of compounds, so you may have some that will break down very easily, you might have some that are very large, complex and they will take years to break down.”
The EPA and Ohio state government continue to take steps toward cleaning up the surrounding environment. However, the chemicals being released into the air are having adverse effects on locals.
Even though residents evacuated for approximately five days, during which officials performed countless air tests, there have been several cases of people experiencing headaches and rashes. These are symptoms of ingesting the chemicals burned in the fire, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although many people living in East Palestine and surrounding cities have voiced frustration regarding how the situation was handled, the government has received massive amounts of outside support in collecting research on the chemicals in the atmosphere.
“There are schools also that are helping out,” Nalbandian said. “We have research schools around that are also helping out gathering data and trying to make sure everything is fine. So I think that it’s a lot of different groups of scientists that are helping out making sure they’re keeping the events on tabs.”
As for the train itself, federal investigators discovered that one of the railcar’s axles experienced a mechanical issue, causing the subsequent derailment. The Federal Railroad Administration is now in the process of reviewing the accident and determining whether this was a single event or a sign of a bigger issue.
Though there have been mixed opinions about the tragic train derailment in East Palestine, Preston Thompson, sophomore civil engineering major, said that people are being too critical of the situation. He believes that the government has done the best it can in this perilous situation.
“We would have to trust the government is doing what they can do to prevent chemicals from staying or spreading,” Thompson said.