Toxic Cargo: How rail transport of vinyl chloride puts millions at risk, an analysis one year after the Ohio train derailment
- We estimate that up to 36 million pounds of vinyl chloride travels on more than 200 rail cars across nearly 2,000 miles of U.S. railways at any given moment. These shipments supply OxyVinyls and Orbia PVC plastics factories in New Jersey, Illinois, and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Over the course of a year, an estimated 8,595 rail cars carry approximately 1.5 billion pounds of vinyl chloride from OxyVinyls, the nation’s top producer of the chemical, to these plastics plants.
- The rail shipment of vinyl chloride to make PVC plastic puts more than three million people at risk, including communities from Texas to New Jersey. We identified the route from OxyVinyls vinyl chloride plants in Texas to the PVC factories in New Jersey as the vinyl plastics industry’s longest in the U.S. OxyVinyls shipments along this route traverse at least eight major cities including Houston, TX; Philadelphia, PA; San Antonio, TX; Austin, TX; Pittsburgh, PA; Toledo, OH; Fort Wayne, IN; Little Rock, AR; and hundreds of other cities and towns. We estimate more than three million people live, and about 670,000 children attend more than 1,500 schools, within one mile of the train route between Texas and New Jersey. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recommends an initial evacuation of one mile in all directions in the event of a major vinyl chloride rail derailment and fire.
- Vinyl chloride is used to manufacture PVC building products sold at The Home Depot and other retailers: OxyVinyls sells PVC to companies that make PVC building materials for retailers like The Home Depot. OxyVinyls supplies businesses like AHF, which makes Armstrong vinyl flooring in Pennsylvania and Illinois and sells Armstrong brand flooring through The Home Depot.
- Making vinyl chloride and PVC releases toxic air and climate pollution: The facilities that make vinyl chloride and PVC are contributing to significant air pollution as well as climate change. In 2022, OxyVinyls and its joint venture partner, Orbia, ranked as the country’s third and fifth leading sources of vinyl chloride air pollution. Orbia and OxyVinyls’ VCM operations in Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey reported releasing 61,774 pounds of vinyl chloride into the air and EPA calculates they released 3,339,604 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2022. These plastics plants have also violated federal environmental regulations; every OxyVinyls and Orbia plant in this investigation has been out of compliance with Clean Air, Clean Water, or other federal environmental regulations within the last 18 months.
Read the report
- I.Key findings
- II.PVC: The poison plastic
- III.How much vinyl chloride is shipped from OxyVinyls around the U.S. every year?
- IV.Maps: the toxic vinyl chloride train route from Texas to New Jersey
- V.Recent vinyl chloride train disasters
- VI.From rail cars to The Home Depot
- VII.Where does it all start? Fracking and vinyl chloride production in Texas