Story and photos by Curtis Walsh – Beaver County Radio news Director. Published February 6, 2023 10:58 A.M.
(East Palestine, Ohio) A massive train fire and derailment occurred Friday night just across the county line in East Palestine, Ohio while it was in Route to Conway. The glow of over 50 tankers and box cars burning could be seen numerous miles away. The NTSB has commented that the cause of the accident is believed to be an axle failure and that there were no injuries among the train operators. A full investigation is underway. Multiple emergency responders, hazmat crews, and railroad crews responded from all over the tri state area responded. Firefighters could be seen dousing heavy amounts of water to lessen the blaze. Evacuations in East Palestine began taking place late Friday and most roads leading to the scene were closed down before midnight. Pennsylvania State Police told Beaver County Radio at the scene Friday the Environmental Protection Agency were on scene and that the fire started with tanker cars. A haze of smoke traveled well beyond the scene and decreased visibility on roads and highways. Firefighters were pulled from operations near the fire for their safety Saturday due to the hazardous materials burning and explosions occurring. Unmanned equipment was left in operation.
UPDATE 2/5/23: Those within a one mile radius of the train derailment were told to evacuate immediately Sunday evening in response to the potential of a catastrophic failure of a tank car. The radius includes parts of Darlington. In a press briefing held Sunday evening, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated “A drastic temperature change has taken place in a rail car, and there is now the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile”. The National Guard was deployed to the scene. On the Ohio side, authorities report anyone breaching the area are subject to arrest, and anybody with children who do not evacuate within the zone are subject to arrest. Those on the Pennsylvania side are subject to different precautionary measures under state law. Pennsylvania cannot mandate an evacuation. The tanker of concern is said to contain Vinyl Chloride.
UPDATE 2/6/23: Eric Brewer, Director of Beaver County Emergency Services, told Beaver County Radio about a tenth of Darlington Township is in the evacuation zone. Numerous road closures are taking place nearby the train derailment and fire which is affecting multiple roads in Beaver County. The following roads are closed: Cannellton Road at Route 51, Route 51 between Route 168 and Ohio, Darlington Road at Route 51, Anderson Road at Route 51, Little Beaver Road at Route 51, Taggert Road at Route 51, Valley Road at Taggert Road, Logtown Road at Route 51, Enon Road at Route 51, East Palestine Road at Route 51, Darlington Road at Route 51, Oakdale Road at Route 51, Agnew Drive at Route 51. Check back for more details as they become available, photos and videos can be viewed below.
UPDATE 2/6/23 11:55am: Blackhawk School District in Chippewa Township released the following statement that students will be dismissed early Monday:
“It has been requested from the Command Center in East Palestine that Blackhawk School District begin an early dismissal today, February 6, 2023, pending the possible explosion in East Palestine due to the train derailment. The High School early dismissal will be at 12:15 p.m., the Middle School at 12:45 p.m., and PPS/BIS at 1:15 p.m. Parents who reside in any zone that is not permitting traffic flow should report to your child’s school to pick them up. After 3:00 p.m., all students remaining in the buildings will be transported to Blackhawk High School for their parents to pick their child up. All evening activities are cancelled.”
Western Beaver School District also dismissed students early. Visit Beaver County compiled a list of hotels offering discounts to evacuees Monday afternoon.
UPDATE 2/6/23 4pm: Ohio governer Mike DeWine issued a statement Monday afternoon that crews at the site of the East Palestine train crash will try a “controlled release” of hazardous chemicals in an attempt to avoid a deadly catastrophic explosion. The burn was underway as of shortly before 5pm Monday and is expected to last a few hours. The fumes that will be released from the train are said to be deadly and the one mile evacuation is crucial. Emergency crews urgently checked homes to ensure all people are out of the area. Crews have created a hole in the train to ignite and drain the dangerous chemicals said to be vinyl chloride into a trench. Beaver County opened a public inquiry phone line at 724-773-6767.
Norfolk Southern released a document in regards to frequently asked questions concerning the situation. The documents states:
“A derailment in East Palestine, OH was reported at approximately 9:00 pm on February 3, 2023, to the Norfolk Southern (NS). All personnel on the train were evacuated and remain safe.
As a precautionary measure, the local authorities initiated a temporary evacuation order shortly thereafter. Local, state, and federal responders and NS are on-site responding to the derailment. Cars involved in the derailment contained vinyl chloride, combustible liquids, butyl acrylate, benzene residue cars (rail cars that previously contained benzene), and nonhazardous materials such as wheat, plastic pellets, malt liquors, and lube oil. Investigation is ongoing as to the nature of the derailment and which rail cars have been compromised.
Is the air safe?
Yes – Air monitoring is being performed 24 hours a day in the community for the substances associated with the derailment and fire. Air monitoring results indicate that the air in the community is safe. As a precautionary measure, evacuation and shelter-in-place recommendations will continue as directed by local authorities.
Is my drinking water safe?
Yes – the East Palestine water supply comes from a series of groundwater wells. Due to the location of the derailment, it is improbable that substances from the derailment will impact the groundwater or drinking water wells in the area.
I smell a strange odor; should I be worried?
Some of the substances associated with the derailment can be smelled even when instrument air monitoring findings are non-detect or below a level of concern. Similarly, non-hazardous materials can produce odors when on fire. While these odors may be irritating, they do not indicate that you are being exposed. Air monitoring in the community is ongoing and will continue until clean-up is complete.
I saw a big cloud of smoke. Are there any short-term health effects from breathing smoke?
The fire from the derailment has similar constituents as a wood fire. Short-term exposure to fire smoke can cause respiratory irritation and coughing, but symptoms should subside after exposure ends. Air monitoring for fire smoke and associated combustion products is being performed in the community.
Are my children at risk? What about the elderly or people with medical conditions?
No – Air monitoring in the community has not shown any detections of vinyl chloride or other substances that would indicate a risk for children, the elderly, or individuals with medical conditions. Air monitoring in the community is being conducted and will continue until clean-up has been completed.
Can exposure to substances from the derailment affect my/my child’s asthma?
While smoke from any type of fire can exacerbate asthma or other breathing difficulties, no long-term effect is expected from short-term exposure. Only very high concentrations of vinyl chloride or other substances may affect someone’s asthma, but any aggravation of asthma would be short-term. None of these chemicals are known to cause asthma.”
Photos and Videos from the scene (Curtis Walsh – Beaver County Radio):