Train operator Norfolk Southern said Monday that crews in East Palestine, Ohio, had successfully completed a controlled release of hazardous chemicals from five rail cars after a freight train derailed.
The compromised rail cars posed a significant threat to safety, with Gov. Mike DeWine saying on Sunday there was “the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure” if crews didn’t intervene to manually vent the cars.
The controlled release of vinyl chloride from the compromised rail cars was due to begin at around 3:30 p.m. local time, according to an update from DeWine on Monday.
An evacuation was ordered for a one-mile by two-mile area surrounding East Palestine. The governor directed people to more information on his website; the site was down as of press time.
“The controlled breach of several rail cars has been completed successfully under the supervision of experts and first responders,” Norfolk Southern said in an update.
“Some of the material is now burning off consistent with expectations from the earlier models, and is expected to drain for a short number of hours,” the statement continued. “We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio EPA. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident and reported that approximately 24 train cars were transporting hazardous materials, with 10 cars derailing. Out of these, five cars were carrying vinyl chloride.
The 50-car train was also carrying combustible liquids, butyl acrylate, and benzene residue, according to Norfolk Southern. It was also carrying non-hazardous materials such as plastic pellets, wheat, and liquors.
Vinyl chloride is a toxic, colorless, and flammable gas used in the production of plastics, particularly PVC pipes, wire coatings, vehicle upholstery, and plastic kitchenware. It evaporates very quickly.
On Sunday afternoon, crews detected that the pressure relief devices on some of the cars had stopped working, according to the train operator.
In a statement that day, DeWine said that a “drastic temperature change” had taken place in a rail car, which created the potential for a “catastrophic tanker failure” that Columbiana County officials said could have sent shrapnel thousands of feet if the cars exploded.
As a result, residents in an Ohio village were urged to evacuate after the train derailed.
The company said crews had prepared pits and embankments to drain the hazardous material into in a “controlled fashion.”
“When it is safe to do so, the manual release of the pressure will be via a controlled breach of several rail cars, and under the supervision of experts and first responders,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement announcing its plan to vent the cars. “This will be loud and visible. Some of the material will burn off as it drains for a short number of hours.”
The company said it would continue to monitor air quality with Ohio EPA and then continue cleanup work at the site once it’s safe to do so.
On Sunday, sheriffs went house by house to determine the number of residents still in the area and encouraged them to evacuate. Schools and local government offices will remain closed until at least Monday and businesses within the evacuation zone have been prohibited from opening on Monday, AP reported.
More than 500 people had declined to leave their homes despite the severe warnings about the hazards, DeWine said. However, the Columbiana County sheriff said that any adults refusing to evacuate who have children were warned that they may be arrested, he added.
DeWine summoned the Ohio National Guard to help local authorities around 8 p.m., and other agencies such as the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and Ohio EPA are also providing support.
No injuries to crew, residents, or first responders have been reported so far.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro also issued an evacuation order for residents near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, citing the release of the toxic chemical.
He noted that residents who don’t evacuate could risk serious injury or death if exposed to the thick smoke and flames.
“If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death,” Shapiro said during a press conference on Feb. 6. “This is very serious. If you are in the orange area, you risk permanent lung damage within a matter of hours or days.”
From The Epoch Times