In the wake of the train crash in East Palestine, Ohio that sent plumes of acrid smoke and toxic chemicals into the environment, residents have joined in filing at least four class-action lawsuits against Norfolk Southern railway for toxic exposure and severe emotional distress. Local residents have described the sounds of the derailment, the violent explosion, and the dangers that followed.
The train was transporting the dangerous chemical vinyl chloride, a colorless gas used to make vinyl products and PVC plastic, which is also a known carcinogen. Acute exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while prolonged exposure can cause liver damage and a rare liver cancer.
The freight train was traveling through East Palestine on its way to Pennsylvania. Of the 150 freight cars, 50 were damaged in the crash, including 10 filled with toxic chemicals. For days, spontaneous fires erupted as plumes of toxic smoke enveloped the town. On February 6, officials evacuated the immediate area and conducted a controlled chemical burn to prevent the vinyl chloride from exploding and shooting shrapnel through the area.
Anxious citizens demanded answers as they reported that thousands of dead fish began appearing in the surrounding creeks, their chickens were dropping dead, their foxes were agitated, and their pets fell ill. Residents complained of burning eyes, sore throats, nausea, and headaches a week after the controlled burn.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later confirmed that about 3,500 fish representing 12 species had died in streams covering 7.5 miles south of East Palestine.
Days after the crash, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine assured residents the town’s air quality was safe, but residents living near the crash site should drink bottled water for now. Federal and state officials removing contaminated soil from the area announced the municipal water supply and air quality had returned to normal.
But residents were not buying the assurances, and many felt confused and fearful. Some environmental and health experts also questioned whether the town was really safe. Social media investigators accused the government of withholding vital information, despite officials’ updates and vocal displeasure aimed at the railroad company.
Shortly after the derailment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found traces of chemicals in the Ohio River and other nearby water sources, which had entered storm drains. Ohio officials told residents they would test their water or drill new wells if requested.
Days later, Ohio’s own EPA announced that the wells feeding the area water systems tested chemical-free and the town’s water supply was safe. The U.S. EPA concurred after screening about 400 homes for chemicals, although they continued to monitor air quality and test homes. Residents near the crash site were permitted to return to their residences.
Environmental experts expressed concerns about building distrust with the public after the government decided to let them return to their homes so soon.
David Masur, executive director of the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, said, “It certainly feels like state and local regulators moved too quickly to give the green light to people to go back.”
Besides vinyl chloride, the railroad was transporting other toxic chemicals, such as dioxin, which can form dangerous compounds when burned. Peter DeCarlo, a professor at Johns Hopkins University urging the EPA to release additional air quality data while stressing the extreme dangers of dioxin.
An attorney representing East Palestine residents in one of the class-action lawsuits against Norfolk Southern Railway said his clients are so distressed that they are considering moving away from the area.
On Thursday, February 23, the National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report found that a hot axle had heated plastic pellets in one of the freight cars, sparking the first fire, which two wayside defect detectors did not catch because the heat threshold had not been met. A third detector registered the high temperature in the car as the axle’s bearing continued to heat, but it was too late to prevent the derailment. The safety board chairman claimed the derailment was preventable.
Attorneys who represent individuals exposed to toxic chemicals will need to rely heavily on hospital records to prove damages and connect them to the incident in question. Contact us if you are looking for a quick and easy way to request and receive patient medical records.