A 150-car train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in northeastern Ohio, and the local area is now at risk from the potential release of toxic substances as well as a potential explosion. The train was headed to Pennsylvania from Illinois and derailed on Friday night, NPR reported.
Fifty of the train’s cars went off the tracks, NBC News reported. Various agencies are currently on the ground to assess the situation and the dangers it could pose to East Palestine, the community closest to the crash. “There were 20 total hazardous material cars in the train consist—10 of which derailed. 5 of the derailed hazmat cars were carrying vinyl chloride,” the the National Transportation Safety Board tweeted on Saturday.
As of this weekend, the NTSB did not confirm that vinyl chloride had been released into the environment other than from the pressure release devices on the train. Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin that’s used in many plastic products, including packaging materials. It’s also a gas that can cause dizziness and sleepiness, and at high levels it can cause death, according to the CDC. Long-term exposure is associated with nerve damage, liver damage, and even cancer.
The Ohio EPA Emergency Response is also on the ground monitoring air and water quality near the derailed train in East Palestine. “Our team is working closely with U.S. EPA and local and state partners to assist in the response,” the agency tweeted.
Scarily, toxins aren’t the only immediate danger—parts of the derailed train could explode, CNN reported. Residents within a mile of the derailed train have been ordered to evacuate. There are currently two evacuation centers set up in the town of about 5,000 people, but several hundred people have declined to evacuate, the Associated Press reported.
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“Residents living within a mile of the train derailment site who have not yet left their homes are asked to immediately evacuate due to the potential of a major explosion,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine tweeted Sunday evening, along with a document of evacuation orders. In the tweet, the governor urged those who have not done so to leave as soon as they could, because an explosion could launch shrapnel as far as a mile away from the explosion. His tweet also said that people with children who did not evacuate “could be subject to arrest.”
The cause of the derailment is unknown. According to investigators, there are data and image recorders on the train that could reveal what went wrong. However, it could take several weeks before there is a complete report about the cause, CNN reported.