A smoldering tangle of dozens of derailed freight cars, some carrying hazardous materials, has kept an evacuation order in effect near the Pennsylvania state line in Ohio as environmental officials carefully watch air quality monitors.
Rail operator Norfolk Southern said a train carrying various products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, caused about 50 cars to derail in East Palestine around 9 p.m. Friday. There were no injuries to crew, residents or first responders.
East Palestinian officials said on Sunday that emergency responders were monitoring, but kept their distance from the fire, saying rescue efforts could not begin as long as the cars continued to smolder. Officials said evacuations included a 1-mile (1.6 kilometer) radius.
Mayor Trent Conway, who declared a state of emergency in the village, said a man had been arrested for going around barricades during the night. He warned that there would be more arrests if people did not stay away.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to live there; If you are that close you are breathing in toxic fumes,” he said, insisting air quality monitors far from the fire showed no level of concern and the city’s water is safe because it is free from some material. is fed by unaffected groundwater. in streams. Environmental Protection Agency crews were working to remove contaminants from streams and monitor water quality.
Fire Chief Keith Drebick said it was vital to avoid the area “because a train carrying hazardous materials is wrecked and burning in the town. It doesn’t get simpler than that.”
Sheriffs will go door-to-door on Sunday to count remaining residents and urge people within the evacuation zone to leave. “We are asking residents to evacuate and cooperate,” officials said in a statement. Schools and rural offices will remain closed on Monday and officials will decide in the afternoon whether to extend the school closure or not. Officials said businesses within the evacuation zone would not be allowed to open on Monday.
Norfolk Southern said 20 of the more than 100 cars were classified as carrying hazardous materials – defined as cargo that poses a hazard of any kind “including flammable, combustible or environmental hazards”. can cause. Some cars contained vinyl chloride, and were “intermittently releasing” its contents through at least one pressure release device.
Authorities said Sunday afternoon that the cars involved contained residues of flammable liquids, butyl acrylate and benzene from previous shipments, as well as non-hazardous materials such as wheat, plastic pellets, malt liquor and lubricating oil.
A “Frequently Asked Questions” post on the village’s Facebook page states, “Short-term exposure to low levels of substances associated with the derailment does not present a long-term health risk to residents.” “Vinyl chloride and benzene can cause cancer in people exposed to high concentrations over many years in the workplace; However, there is no indication that any potential exposure to derailment leads to an increased risk of cancer or any other long-term health effects in community members.
The National Transportation Safety Board said only 10 cars loaded with hazardous materials derailed and five of them were carrying vinyl chloride, not 14 as previously stated. And officials stressed again late Saturday that they had not confirmed a release of vinyl chloride other than as designed pressure release devices.
According to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute, vinyl chloride, used to make polyvinyl chloride rigid plastic resin in a variety of plastic products, is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers. Norfolk Southern was to provide a fact sheet listing all the chemicals involved.
The evacuation order covered the homes of 1,500 to 2,000 of the city’s 4,800 to 4,900 residents, but officials said it was unknown exactly how many were affected. About eight residents remained in an emergency shelter. Norfolk Southern opened a support center in the village to collect information from affected residents; Village officials said that 75 people had gone to the center on Saturday and around 100 had gone there on Sunday morning.
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