The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Tuesday said that chemicals from a recent train derailment have been found in waterways near the Ohio River. The ODNR examined four different streams and tributaries over seven and a half miles around the derailment site and discovered 3,500 dead fish of 12 different species. As of yet, no non-aquatic species have been affected.
The derailment occurred on February 3 when a train operated by Norfolk Southern Railway Company derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Investigators believe an overheated wheel bearing cause the derailment. The cars were carrying hazardous material, including vinyl chloride, a highly volatile colorless gas used for producing hard plastic resin. Fearing an explosion after the derailment, officials intentionally released these toxic chemicals into the air. There were no injuries or fatalities, but the environmental and health effects are mounting.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been investigating the aftermath of the derailment. The EPA sent Norfolk Southern a letter warning them that the company may face potential liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The EPA plans on potentially holding Norfolk Southern accountable by requiring them “to perform cleanup actions to protect the public health, welfare, [and] the environment.” Norfolk Southern “may also be responsible for costs incurred by EPA in cleaning up the Site.” The letter was only a notice of potential general liability, and the EPA cannot take further legal action against the train company until further investigations are complete.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated Tuesday that the train should have been reported as a high hazardous material train given what it carried. He also emphasized that “Congress needs to take a look at how these things are handled.”
Since the accident, Norfolk Southern established a family assistance center to help families displaced by the derailment. The company also made a $1 million charitable donation to the residents of East Palestine. However, critics allege that the company is part of a lobby group that repealed train safety regulations in 2015.