Ohio Train Derailment Could Put Cancer Risk, Millions in Damage – Orange County Register
By Thomas Black
Nearly two weeks after a train carrying cancer-causing chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, the extent of the damage to the nearby community is still unclear. The railroads are facing a traffic jam and operator Norfolk Southern Corp. could cost tens of millions of dollars.
Although residents have been allowed to return to their homes, many remain concerned about the long-term environmental impact of the February 3 accident. Some of them watched from a distance as a fiery cloud blazed over the rubble after Norfolk Southern, in cooperation with authorities, decided to intentionally vent and burn some of the railcars to avoid a possible explosion.
“I’ve had conversations with some people who live very close to Ground Zero and are reluctant to come back,” said James Wise, a local attorney who filed a class action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern on behalf of some residents. “There are people with young children and they don’t know what the impact is going to be.”
Norfolk Southern is likely to impose a special charge in the first quarter to cover the costs of the accident, Cowen Inc. analyst Jason Seidl wrote in a Tuesday report. The company’s shares are already down almost 7% since the derailment. Rail services resumed last week, although delays continue.
Spillage of carcinogens
The 150-car Norfolk-Southern train carried about 20 cars containing chemicals such as vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Vinyl chloride, used to make the plastic resin known as PVC, is a carcinogen linked to liver, brain and lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
It’s difficult to say exactly how much of the chemicals burned in the fire and how much may have leaked into the ground and surrounding waterways. Surface water samples taken by Pace Analytical Services on Feb. 4 showed contamination from the derailment, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said.
The resulting spill killed 3,500 fish, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. No livestock were affected, authorities said. Still, reports of dead chickens and pets circulated on social media. There were no immediate deaths or injuries.
Since the fire was extinguished on Feb. 8, “air surveillance has not identified any community health concerns attributable to the train derailment,” the EPA regional administrator said in a statement Tuesday.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has urged Norfolk Southern to reimburse it for costs related to the crash as soon as possible, noting its “potential liability” in a Feb. 10 letter. Chief Executive Officer Alan Shaw promised the company would pay for a thorough cleanup, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday. A representative from Norfolk Southern confirmed the commitment.
Railroads are the primary mode of transportation for hazardous materials moving around the United States, and in 2021 they carried 992 million tons of such products, according to the American Chemistry Council. Under US law, railroad companies must transport chemicals even when the potential risk outweighs the reward.
While train derailments happen fairly regularly, derailments involving hazardous materials are less common. Of the more than 12,000 derailments the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has logged over the past decade, only 224 carried hazardous materials, according to analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
In 2005, Norfolk Southern had a derailment of 16 cars, including a chlorine tanker truck, in Graniteville, South Carolina. That accident killed 10 people and took years to clean up, said Seidl von Cowen. The railroad incurred approximately $35 million in costs related to this incident.
Another accident involving vinyl chloride occurred in 2012 when a Conrail train derailed in Paulsboro, NJ. That accident resulted in about $30 million in damages, Ariel Rosa, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, said in the Feb. 13 report.
“Our review of the history of such nonfatal incidents suggests that damages typically range from several million dollars to tens of millions of dollars,” Rosa said.
Wise, the local attorney, said there are more questions than answers at this point. He was forced to vacate his office and kept it closed after his assistant returned on February 9 and found a lingering odor. “What are the aftermath? Is our water being affected? Will our health be affected?”
Wise decided to keep the company’s office closed until last Monday.
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/02/15/ohio-train-derailment-could-bring-cancer-risk-millions-in-damage/ Ohio Train Derailment Could Put Cancer Risk, Millions in Damage – Orange County Register