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Study: East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment chemicals carried to 16 states, Canada

Report estimates toxic chemicals from incident now affect about 110 million people.

By Chris Benson
Norfolk Southern likewise agreed to a $600 million class action settlement to resolve claims surrounding last year’s train derailment, but now some East Palestine residents find themselves hesitant to sign-on. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
1 of 5 | Norfolk Southern likewise agreed to a $600 million class action settlement to resolve claims surrounding last year’s train derailment, but now some East Palestine residents find themselves hesitant to sign-on. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

June 19 (UPI) -- Toxic chemicals from the February 2023 East Palestine, Ohio, trail derailment near the Pennsylvania border was carried to and polluted 16 states, including parts of Canada, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study estimates that the toxic chemicals affect about 110 million U.S. citizens from the Midwest, such as in Minnesota and Wisconsin, to the Northeast, in places such as New England. The study says the chemicals are even found as far south as Tennessee, North Carolina, and far to the north, such as in the southern part of Ontario in Canada.

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"I didn't expect to see an impact this far out," Dr. David Gay, the study's lead author, told The Washington Post.

"There's more going on here than most people would have guessed, including me," said Gay, coordinator of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program.

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Samples were collected at about 260 sites in North America. Gay said chemical measurements not only showed expectedly high levels of chloride concentrations, but also were surprising because of "the vast geographical area" it covered.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which said it is aware of the study but has yet to review it, previously had confirmed that the train cars carried vinyl chloride, benzene, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and butyl acrylate. The chemicals are associated with a range of various acute or chronic adverse health effects, depending on the level and frequency of exposure.

The findings in the study run counter to news and information released last year in which experts originally claimed Canada likely would not be on the receiving end of any toxic chemical spread related to the derailment.

But Gay says the detected chemical concentrations are not "toxic, but are pretty unusual at a lot of places," adding that plant and marine life could suffer negative effects.

However, this is only an initial assessment of the effects of the train derailment on atmospheric and precipitation chemistry using publicly available data, the report says.

"It's not death and destruction," said Gay. "It's fairly low concentrations, but they are very high relative to the normal that we typically see -- some of the highest we've measured in the last ten years."

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The White House in September announced $1.4 billion for a range of projects to improve railroad safety and repair the industry's tattered infrastructure across the United States via President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The billion-dollar investment was hailed by the Transportation Department, which recently set new training requirements for rail workers, as the largest federal investment in rail safety upgrades in the nation's history.

The Justice Department said that Norfolk Southern estimates it will spend more than $1 billion on contamination cleanup and mitigating other potential harms along with proving rail safety and operations.

The DOJ and EPA in May announced a $310M settlement with Norfolk Southern in the derailment. Along with a $15 million civil penalty, the settlement will require Norfolk Southern to pay for past and future cleanup costs, enhanced rail safety and health monitoring.

Norfolk Southern likewise agreed to a $600 million class action settlement to resolve claims surrounding last year's train derailment, but now some East Palestine residents find themselves hesitant to sign-on.

"I think we should be concerned," Juliane Beier, a vinyl chloride expert said, citing the likelihood of long-term environmental impacts on states and communities.

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