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A report by Toxic-Free Future and Material Research


Nearly one year ago today, on February 3, 2023, five train cars containing 887,400 pounds (115,000 gallons) of vinyl chloride1, 2, a, the key building block for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, derailed and were subsequently burned, setting off a major environmental health disaster that sickened area residents and first responders3, killed wildlife4, and contaminated East Palestine, Ohio and surrounding communities.5 A similar disaster struck Paulsboro, New Jersey in 2012. In both cases, the train cars carrying cancer-causing vinyl chloride were on their way to plastics manufacturing plants in New Jersey owned by OxyVinyls (a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum)1, 6, where factories make PVC plastic for flooring and other building materials sold at major retailers like The Home Depot. According to the company, OxyVinyls is the largest vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) producer in the United States and the third-largest polyvinyl chloride (PVC) supplier in the United States.6

OxyVinyls played a central role in these two disasters for one important reason—it supplies PVC plants located far from its Texas petrochemical plants that manufacture vinyl chloride, forcing it to rely on dangerous rail transport of the highly hazardous chemical. With vinyl chloride production in Texas and OxyVinyls-supplied PVC plants in New Jersey, Illinois, and Ontario, OxyVinyls is responsible for the transport of rail cars filled with vinyl chloride across an enormous distance and through a number of major and minor population centers, putting communities across the country at risk.

We set out to quantify this hazard: at any given time, how many rail cars with vinyl chloride are en route from OxyVinyls plants in Texas to its factories in other states and provinces? How much of this hazardous chemical is transported every year, and how many people are put at risk? While PVC’s hazards go far beyond the dangers of rail transport, our investigation is the first time the public is learning the extent to which this particular supply chain poses a risk to communities across much of the U.S.—and the identities of those communities.

To better understand the magnitude of this hazard, we established the most likely rail routes for shipping of vinyl chloride from two OxyVinyls plants in Texas to four PVC factories in New Jersey, Illinois, and Ontario. Using information sources including mapping data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, as well as rail company route maps, photos, repair reports, and other sources, we established the most likely routes. We put this route information together with travel time and the annual PVC production capacity of these factories to estimate the number of vinyl chloride tank cars needed to supply these four factories (see Material Research’s Methodology (PDF) for more detail).


a EPA’s East Palestine records list five tank cars carrying 178,150; 178,300; 177,250; 177,600 ; and 176,100 pounds of  vinyl chloride monomer (VCM)  in each car. See pages 5-6 of

Local Community Experts

Jess Conard

“Investigating the widespread transportation of vinyl chloride provides critical evidence that people across the nation are all at risk of toxic vinyl chloride pollution. My community in East Palestine, Ohio is not an isolated incident but rather a symptom of a larger issue. We cannot ensure public health safety if we continue to produce and transport toxic vinyl chloride across the country on a rickety rail system.”

Jess Conard
Appalachia director for Beyond Plastics and East Palestine, Ohio resident

Hilary Flint

“Vinyl chloride was found just outside my bedroom window and I’m convinced the chemicals from the train derailment have significantly affected my health. I’ve had sinus congestion, irritated eyes, skin rashes, and a bloody nose for a year now. The only advice my doctor could give me was to remove myself from my home. So I’m currently footing the bill for a rental home and utilities on top of the home my family has lived in for four generations.”

Hilary Flint
Vice President of Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment and Director of Communications and Community Engagement for Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community

“PVC is toxic not only when it comes onto The Home Depot shelves and flooring on homes but also in the production process, with workers and fenceline communities exposed to carcinogenic emissions from its production. Our communities where production occurs are forgotten until chemical explosions occur. After the fires dissipate and the toxic emissions persist, our communities carry the burden of cancer, kidney, and brain disease, and congenital disabilities. Lack of access to healthcare and record profits only worsen the problem. Government agencies must adopt common-sense safeguards to phase out and ban PVC, like asbestos and lead. Retailers like The Home Depot have the option to lead the way in consumer protection, and I look forward to a progressive policy moving forward. Undoubtedly, the science is on the side of consumer protection. Ultimately, pressure from the public can overcome corporate dollars and American Chemistry Councils’ lobby efforts. The US can start by supporting a globally binding plastics treaty and reinforce the efforts of communities, scientists, and advocates to tackle toxic plastics like PVC before they are loaded on railcars or produced in our low-resource communities.”

Yvette Arellano
Founder & Director, Fenceline Watch

“A new report by Toxic-Free Future highlighting rail transport of vinyl chloride from Oxy plants from the Houston area to the East Coast is an urgent call for policymakers, labor unions, regulators, consumers, and all communities impacted to support alternatives away from toxic supply chains. A vinyl chloride hazmat crisis at the Edgewood Railyard would create a multi- emergency response effort larger than that created by ITC (2019) and Shell (2023). Response efforts for those two incidents prove our region is ill-prepared. The Edgewood Railyard location in Northeast Houston could devastate three historic communities: Denver Harbor, 5th Ward, and Kashmere Gardens, and both the Huntington and Buffalo Bayou Watersheds. Found within these boundaries are dearly beloved parks: Nieto Park and Selena Quintanilla Park, as well as the Hester House Community Center and places of worship. These reports come at a time when residents who are also voters and consumers can influence the markets and the ballot box.”

Ana M. Parras
Co-Founder & Co- Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS)

“Communities that live near railways and chemical industries that transport or use VC are often people of color and lower income that already face environmental injustice and the poor health outcomes that come with it. That is certainly true for us here in Houston, where we are surrounded by over 400 toxic release sites. It is time we stopped sacrificing people in the name of industry and economy when we know very well there are VC alternatives that are both cheaper and safer for humans and the environment. If there were an accident in a densely populated area such as Houston, I shudder to think of the consequences.”

Brandy Deason
Climate Justice Coordinator, Air Alliance Houston

“Tens of thousands of Texas residents are seriously endangered by the rail transportation of vinyl chloride, including in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Ingleside, Texas, one of the communities where OxyChem produces vinyl chloride, just experienced a train derailment at the start of January. Three cars left the tracks near the OxyChem plant. This time, the train cars happened to be empty, but if that train had contained vinyl chloride, Ingleside would have experienced a catastrophe similar to the disaster that East Palestine just suffered with the Norfolk Southern derailment. Our communities do not deserve to be exposed to this toxic threat.”

Cody Benavides
Petrochemical Organizer, Texas Campaign for the Environment

“New Jersey residents and workers face health risks and potential disaster each and every day as train cars of vinyl chloride roll through majority Black and Brown neighborhoods (in Camden and Paulsboro) on their way to the production lines of the OxyVinyls and Orbia chemical plants in Pedricktown, NJ – adding to the injustices and disproportionate body burden of pollution they bear. Chemical train car derailments have catastrophic consequences as proven by the Paulsboro, NJ (2012) and East Palestine, OH (2023) vinyl chloride disasters. If we want to we can prevent future signature forms of liver cancer or bone degradation in the hands of those exposed in/near the Oxy plant, rail corridor or as first responders, then we must employ the best and only true line of protection – phase out vinyl chloride and PVC in products while making polluters address the impacted communities and workers as we transition to safer alternatives. In doing so, every time you go to your local store or The Home Depot you would feel more confident that your purchase is more mindful of our health, communities and the planet. We know it is possible as Apple phased out PVC over 10 years ago and IKEA nearly 30 years ago.”

Amy Goldsmith
NJ State Director, Clean Water Action

Science and Policy Experts

Mike Schade, Director of Mind the Store, Toxic-Free Future

“As we remember the train wreck that devastated the community of East Palestine a year ago, our new analysis shows that OxyVinyls, the company shipping hazardous vinyl chloride by rail, for use by retailers like The Home Depot that sell PVC products, is putting many more communities at risk. The people of East Palestine were forced to learn the hard way that tank cars of vinyl chloride rumbling through your town can mean disaster for your health and your community. It is outrageous that the amount of vinyl chloride involved in that tragedy reflects only a small percentage of the millions of pounds that is transported at any given moment. Retailers like The Home Depot need to take this lesson and move from PVC to safer materials that don’t put communities at risk.”

Mike Schade
Director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future

“We owe it to the people of East Palestine to end the use of this dangerous plastic that is putting communities from Houston to Philadelphia at risk. The Home Depot has a responsibility to stock its shelves with materials that can be made, transported, and used safely.”

Erika Schreder
Science Director, Toxic-Free Future

“States are starting to act to protect communities from hazardous chemicals like vinyl chloride and PVC. We anticipate numerous states will consider policies to restrict the use of PVC in 2024 legislative sessions as they recognize how significant the PVC problem is.”

Sarah Doll
National Director, Safer States

“Over 99% of vinyl chloride is used to make Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, that is used to make drinking water pipes, consumer packaging, home flooring, vinyl siding and even children’s toys. This is a timely, well-researched and important report that should compel EPA Administrator Michael Regan to ban this poison used to make plastic.”

Judith Enck
President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator

“I was a real estate developer for two decades before joining Healthy Building Network (HBN). My last project in Minneapolis, The Rose, bypassed vinyl floors for a non-PVC option – that was eight years ago. At HBN, I work with many architects and developers that choose viable, safer, vinyl-free products, especially flooring. First Community Housing uses linoleum, others use bamboo, engineered wood, or myriad other healthier floors. For the leaders, the shift is already happening because they are committed to eliminating fossil fuels and plastics, and recognize the chemical pollution vinyl production causes in fenceline communities. I look forward to the day that ‘luxury’ vinyl tile is a thing of the past. Leading retailers like Home Depot could be trailblazing the path to advance better products.”

Gina Ciganik
Chief Executive Officer, Healthy Building Network

Additional vinyl chloride research by Toxic-Free Future

PVC Poison Plastic (2023)

This 2023 investigation uncovers the largest polluters of vinyl chloride in the U.S. and maps the communities regularly exposed to this dangerous chemical and its waste products. More.