​Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 4, 2023.

Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 4, 2023.

(Photo: Dustin Franz/AFP via Getty Images)

Controlled Release of Toxic Chemicals Planned to Avoid Explosion of Derailed Train

"You need to leave, you just need to leave," Ohio's governor warned nearby residents ahead of the release. "This is a matter of life and death."

Authorities ordered Ohio and Pennsylvania residents in the vicinity of a derailed train to evacuate immediately or risk death prior to a planned release of toxic chemicals on Monday afternoon.

A train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio late Friday night, sparking a fire that has been smoldering ever since. In order to prevent five tanker cars carrying vinyl chloride from exploding and sending debris flying through the rural town, officials said they would begin releasing the material into a trench and burning it off into the air at 3:30 pm EST—though as of press time, it hadn't started.

Scott Deutsch of rail operator Norfolk Southern "estimated the release would take from one to three hours," The Associated Pressreported. "Doing this during the daytime will allow the fumes to disperse more quickly," the news outlet noted, citing Deutsch.

Roughly half of the 4,800 residents in East Palestine had already been urged to leave over the weekend before officials decided on Monday to conduct a controlled release. While authorities believed that most, if not all, inhabitants of the danger zone departed in response to the initial evacuation warning, they knocked on doors one last time on Monday.

During a Monday press conference preceding the planned release, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered anyone remaining in the area near the derailment to evacuate immediately: "You need to leave, you just need to leave. This is a matter of life and death."

The train, which was shipping cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state border. The evacuation zone includes a sparsely populated area of Pennsylvania about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

According to Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, about two dozen state residents live in the evacuation zone but as of Sunday night, half remained in their homes. He said that local emergency services workers and state police were going door-to-door to help those residents get on their way.

During a last-minute press conference held just after 1:30 pm EST on Monday, Shapiro implored anyone remaining in the danger zone to leave immediately.

"Let me be very, very clear: If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death," Shapiro said. "This is very serious. If you are within the orange area on this map, you risk permanent lung damage within a matter of hours or days."

"Beyond the evacuation zone, based on current weather conditions, we are recommending people who live near East Palestine in Darlington Township along State Line Road, Valley Road, and Taggert Road to shelter in place and be prepared to evacuate if necessary," he added. "We know that weather can change."

Miraculously, no crew, residents, or first responders suffered injuries during the Friday night train accident.

As AP reported, "Federal investigators say the cause of the derailment was a mechanical issue with a rail car axle."

According to the outlet: "The three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect 'shortly before the derailment,' Michael Graham, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Sunday. Investigators identified the exact 'point of derailment,' but the board was still working to determine which rail car experienced the axle issue, he said."

The accident comes as rail operators and members of Congress refuse to provide rail workers with paid sick leave, a move that would improve safety.

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