While the US government is dispensing millions of dollars in resources to treat balloons as an existential crisis, a small town in Ohio finds itself engulfed in what actually looks like the apocalypse. Perhaps by design, all of the drama surrounding violations of US airspace by Chinese spy initiatives has done well to keep what is becoming one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory from getting any headlines.
The chaos began early last week when a train of more than 100 cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio near the state’s border with Pennsylvania with roughly 5,000 residents. The accident launched fifty of those hundred freight cars from the tracks. Twenty of the freight cars on the train were carrying hazardous materials, ten of which were detailed. While the accident had no fatalities, of those ten cars, five contained pressurized vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogenic gas.
In order to address the volatile scenario around the crash site, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency executed its plan of venting the toxic gas with a controlled burn in order to evade an uncontrolled explosion which presented the risk of catastrophic damage. “Within the last two hours, 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,” Gov. Mike DeWine warned in statement explaining the decision to take action to avert widespread devastation.
However, that operation sent large plumes of smoke containing vinyl chloride, phosgene, hydrogen chloride, and other gases into the air as the flames from the controlled burn raged on for days. Phosgene in particular is a highly toxic gas that can cause vomiting and respiratory trouble. The toxicity of phosgene gas is so potent that it was previously used as a chemical weapon during the First World War.
The hazardous airborne chemicals prompted officials to issue mandatory evacuation and shelter-in-place orders within a one-mile radius of where the train derailed. Those orders forced nearly 2,000 residents of East Palestine out of there homes. Despite the public safety risk in proximity to the crash site, over 500 people within the parameters of the evacuation order refused to leave their homes. However, those orders were lifted on February 8th, allowing residents to return to the area adjacent to the disaster.