Recent vinyl chloride train disasters
Toxic Cargo: How rail transport of vinyl chloride puts millions at risk, an analysis one year after the Ohio train derailment
Recent vinyl chloride train disasters
Vinyl Chloride train disasters in Ohio and New Jersey
Past disasters have proven that the shipment of vinyl chloride poses major health risks to first responders and families who live near train tracks. In the last 12 years, two major train disasters involving vinyl chloride led to the evacuation of towns in East Palestine, Ohio and Paulsboro, New Jersey, sickening hundreds of residents with many ending up in hospital emergency rooms.
The 2023 East Palestine vinyl chloride train disaster
Five train cars carrying 887,400 pounds (115,000 gallons) of vinyl chloride from OxyVinyls derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, 2023. Tank cars loaded with toxic chemicals burned for days, releasing toxic chemicals into the air and sickening hundreds of residents and first responders.35-37 After the train cars derailed and were intentionally burned, schools and roads were closed and approximately 1,500-2,000 residents38 in a two square mile area39 in East Palestine and nearby Pennsylvania were ordered to evacuate. Others were encouraged to shelter in place.40
In the weeks that followed the catastrophe, an ATSDR/Ohio Department of Health ACE41 health survey was conducted and documented that both first responders and residents experienced health symptoms following the vinyl chloride catastrophe, including stuffy nose/sinus congestion and burning nose or throat for first responders, and headaches, coughing, and irritation/pain/burning eyes for nearby residents, among other symptoms.36 Even seven of the 15 CDC staff who were surveying area residents in the impacted area reported symptoms including sore throat, headache, coughing, and nausea, symptoms similar to those of residents.42
Today, some residents of East Palestine have remained relocated43, and many still suffer from health problems they believe are attributable to exposure to vinyl chloride and other chemicals from the fire.f Many residents and community groups, such as the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment, have been calling on President Biden to issue an emergency declaration so that residents can access more services and relief.44 Only time will tell what the long-term human health impacts are of the disaster.
The 2012 Paulsboro, NJ vinyl chloride disaster
In 2012, three OxyVinyls railcars containing vinyl chloride from Texas plunged from a bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey. One car was punctured and released a reported 180,000 pounds45, g (more than 20,000 gallons) of vinyl chloride, creating a vinyl chloride vapor cloud that sickened scores of emergency responders and area residents.46, 47 More than 250 residents and first responders visited the emergency room at area hospitals following the disaster.48 A New Jersey Department of Health study found that, “A high proportion of Paulsboro residents experienced symptoms consistent with exposure to vinyl chloride released from the train derailment site.”48 Very high concentrations of vinyl chloride were released into the air of the community, with even life-threatening levels in the immediate area.49
Both disasters involved vinyl chloride headed to the same PVC plastics factory
In both cases, the vinyl chloride cars derailed on the way to OxyVinyls in Pedricktown, New Jersey1, 45, h, where OxyVinyls makes PVC, used in building materials sold at retailers like The Home Depot.
f Personal communication between Mike Schade and Jami Wallace of the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment. December 2023.
g This was reported from the Delaware Valley Early Warning System to NJ DEP on the day of the derailment, stating that “Vinyl chloride car was compromised releasing 180,000 pounds of material into the atmosphere.” Source: page 75 of the NTSB report on the Paulsboro incident. National Transportation Safety Board. Accident Report. Conrail Freight Train Derailment with Vinyl Chloride Release Paulsboro, New Jersey November 30, 2012. Available online: https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/RAR1401.pdf
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