East Palestine train derailment updates: Chemical plume moves toward Huntington, West Virginia

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The plume created by last week's burn of chemicals from a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine had moved south along the Ohio River to Gallipolis, Ohio, state Environmental Protection Agency officials said.

The plume of butyl acrylate – a compound used in paints, plastics and other products – is expected to be near Huntington, West Virginia sometime Friday, the agency said. Testing results showed butyl acrylate in the water at levels below 3 parts per billion – well below the 560 parts per billion considered hazardous by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No vinyl chloride, which was intentionally burned to avoid an explosion, has been detected in the Ohio River, EPA officials said.

The Ohio EPA cleared East Palestine residents to drink village water on Wednesday, over a week after a fiery train derailment caused toxic chemicals to be released in the village.

An eastbound Norfolk Southern Railway freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, causing damage to about 50 cars, 11 of which contained hazardous materials. Vinyl chloride, a gas contained in five of the cars, was released and burned to prevent an explosion, causing toxic fumes to be released in the area. Residents were allowed to return home last week.

Here's what we know as of Thursday.

A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, and remained on fire the next day.
A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, and remained on fire the next day.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requests federal assistance

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday requested federal assistance on the ground in East Palestine, according to the governor's office.

DeWine spoke with White House officials early Thursday morning and requested assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health and Emergency Response Team, and the CDC. DeWine asked the CDC to send physicians and professionals who can examine and evaluate residents who are experiencing symptoms.

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"Some community members have already seen physicians in their area but remain concerned about their condition and possible health effects – both short- and long-term," he wrote in a Thursday letter to the CDC.

Ohio is not eligible for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency at this time, DeWine's office said.

Norfolk Southern skips East Palestine town hall

Hundreds of East Palestine residents attended a meeting at East Palestine High School Wednesday evening to voice concerns and frustrations over the train derailment. But one key voice was missing: Norfolk Southern.

Mayor Trent Conaway told reporters immediately before the event that residents wouldn't get an opportunity to question the rail company involved in the incident, saying that Norfolk Southern backed out of the open house meeting.

'Why are people getting sick?'East Palestine residents voice concerns; Norfolk Southern skips meeting

The mayor reiterated during the meeting that he invited Norfolk Southern "many times."

Other officials, including members of the state and federal environmental protection agencies, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta attended the meeting to try to provide some answers to residents exposed to dangerous chemicals released into the air from the derailment and through a controlled burn.

Officials explained that in some cases a smell may persist in the area but that may not mean the air is at dangerous levels. They also assured residents they can use their water.

Norfolk Southern CEO writes letter to residents

The day after Norfolk Southern representatives skipped the town hall, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw sent a letter to residents pledging not to abandon the community.

"I know you also have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right," Shaw wrote. "My simple answer is that we are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive."

Is it safe to drink water in Ohio?

The Ohio EPA said East Palestine residents can safely drink village water on Wednesday, according to a release issued by Gov. Mike DeWine. The agency tested five wells that feed into East Palestine's municipal water system and no raw contaminants were detected.

Chemicals from the derailment were detected in creeks and streams near the village after the derailment, leading to the deaths of around 3,500 fish. Ohio Department of Natural Resources director Mary Mertz said Tuesday the department hasn't seen an increase in fish deaths since the first couple of days after the incident, and there are no signs of non-aquatic life being harmed.

Norfolk Southern is also actively aerating Sulphur Run and has contained 1.3 miles of the waterway, Tiffany Kavalec, chief of the division of surface water at the Ohio EPA, said Tuesday.

"Sulphur Run remains contaminated but we're confident that it is contained," she added.

Is there acid rain in Ohio?

Acid rain could have formed after the controlled release and burn of chemicals on Feb. 6, Kevin Crist, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the director of the Air Quality Center at Ohio University, said. If it did form and fall, it would have most likely occurred downwind of East Palestine.

"There would maybe be localized problems, but once that plume is gone, it's gone. Unless it's sticking to a residue," Crist said.

Vinyl chloride in the atmosphere breaks down into hydrochloric acid, a component of acid rain. East Palestine residents may want to wipe down surfaces in homes for possible residual material, Crist added.

What caused the derailment?

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what caused the train to derail. The board said Tuesday investigators identified the rail car that initiated the derailment and have surveillance video that showing “what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.” A preliminary report is expected to be published in two weeks.

Norfolk Southern has declined to share the route the train traveled before reaching East Palestine. But the two potential routes put the train on a path through several larger cities such as Cleveland or Mansfield.

DeWine: Norfolk Southern agreed to pay for damage and cleanup

At a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. DeWine said he talked to the CEO of Norfolk Southern and received promises that the railroad will stay in East Palestine until the situation is remediated.

"If they don't, we've got an attorney general that will file a lawsuit," the governor said. "They're responsible for this. They did it. The impact on this community is huge − not just physical problem that might be caused, but the inconvenience, the terror."

East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment:Photos show fallout

Who owns Norfolk Southern Railroad?

Norfolk Southern is a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corp., a transportation company headquartered in Atlanta.

Alan Shaw is the CEO and president of Norfolk Southern Corp.

East Palestine train derailment:Water works monitors for hazardous chemical in Ohio River

A controlled release and burning of vinyl chloride caused a black plume to rise over East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 6.
A controlled release and burning of vinyl chloride caused a black plume to rise over East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 6.

A controlled release of toxic chemicals happened Feb. 6

During Tuesday's press conference, DeWine said he was made aware on Feb. 5 that one car containing vinyl chloride was at risk of exploding. DeWine said responders were faced with "two bad options:" allow the car to explode, which could launch deadly shrapnel with a near-one-mile trajectory, or vent and burn the chemical.

DeWine said Ohio and Pennsylvania authorities communicated with Norfolk and decided to prevent the explosion. Remaining East Palestine residents were evacuated from the area, and Norfolk executed the controlled release and burn of the vinyl chloride in five cars around 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 6, creating a large plume above the village.

Authorities and Norfolk Southern have not publicly stated how much vinyl chloride was released, but a federal lawsuit filed Thursday estimates 1.1 billion pounds of the chemical was spilled during the fire and derailment.

Pennsylvania governor: State will hold Norfolk Southern accountable

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro wrote a letter to Norfolk CEO Alan Shaw on Tuesday expressing his concern with the company's response after the derailment. Here are some things the governor said:

  • Norfolk Southern did not immediately notify the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection or the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency about the derailment, and the agencies instead found out independently a few hours later.

  • Norfolk Southern failed to implement unified command, creating confusion and lack of awareness in the response.

  • Norfolk Southern did not indicate to state and local responders that it was going to vent and burn all five cars with vinyl chloride, rather than just the one that was at risk of exploding. The company also failed to say how many cars contained hazardous chemicals.

  • Norfolk Southern did not want to explore possible alternatives to venting and burning the vinyl chloride. "Norfolk Southern failed to explore all potential courses of action, including some that may have kept the rail line closed longer but could have resulted in a safer overall approach for first responders, residents and the environment," the governor wrote.

What is vinyl chloride?

Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas used to make polyvinyl chloride, the hard plastic resin in plastic products, like credit cards, car parts, PVC pipe and more. Vinyl chloride exposure is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer as well as brain and lung cancers.

Burning it sends phosgene, a toxic gas that was used as a weapon during World War I, and hydrogen chloride into the air, which is why residents had to be evacuated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is continuing to monitor the air quality in East Palestine following the release.

What chemicals were on the train in Ohio?

The rail cars contained vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and isobutylene, the EPA said in a letter to Norfolk Southern on Friday.

Days after the fiery derailment, the mainlines of the track were once again operational on Feb. 7.
Days after the fiery derailment, the mainlines of the track were once again operational on Feb. 7.

Is the railroad back up and running?

Both mainlines were restored to service Feb. 7, one day after the vinyl chloride release, according to Norfolk Southern.

Norfolk Southern shared its remediation plan on Monday

Norfolk Southern issued its remediation plan to the Ohio EPA on Monday. On Wednesday, the company said it has:

  • Completed more than 400 in-home air tests, none of which have yielded concerning results.

  • Implemented an outdoor air-monitoring programin East Palestine and the broader region.

  • Is actively sampling the village's drinking water supply.

  • Has distributed over $1.5 million in direct financial assistance to more than affected 1,000 families.

  • Established a $1 million fund for the community for immediate use.

Was anyone injured in East Palestine?

No injuries to the train crew, first responders or community members have been reported, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

A look at the data:How often do train wrecks spill hazardous chemicals into neighborhoods?

Charges against NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert were dropped

Attorney General Dave Yost said Wednesday that his office is dropping the charges against NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert, who was arrested while reporting on the train derailment in East Palestine.

Local prosecutors had charged Lambert with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, but referred the case to Yost's office.

“While journalists could conceivably be subject to criminal charges for trespassing in some situations, this incident is not one of them," Yost said. "The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the Governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”

Where is East Palestine, Ohio?

The village of East Palestine, Ohio, is about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about 21 miles south of Youngstown, Ohio. It is part of Columbiana County.

What did J.D. Vance say about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio?

Sen. J.D. Vance addressed the derailment in a statement on Monday. The Ohio senator said he was "horrified" by the wreck and has been in constant communication with local officials, residents and DeWine's office.

"This is a complex environmental disaster with impacts that may be difficult to assess in the short term," Vance said. "Long-term study will be imperative. As will long-term commitment to remediation by Norfolk Southern for the property damaged, the wildlife disrupted and the community scarred by this accident."

Read his full statement here.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Latest updates about the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio