Animals are falling sick and dying near the site of a hellish Ohio train derailment last Friday which released toxic chemicals into the air, according to reports — sparking fears of the potential health impacts the crash could have on humans.
Odour and haze were reported over the area as the Norfolk Southern railway prepared further controlled releases of toxic vinyl chloride gas from several still-smouldering tanker cars.
Taylor Holzer, owner of a dairy farm just outside the evacuation zone in East Palestine, Ohio told WKBN several foxes he keeps on his property have become mortally ill.
“Out of nowhere, he just started coughing really hard, just shut down, and he had liquid diarrhoea and just went very fast,” Holzer told the outlet of one of his animals.
He said others have developed watery eyes and puffy faces, and have uncharacteristically refused to eat for several days.
“Smoke and chemicals from the train, that’s the only thing that can cause it, because it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere,” Holzer said. “The chemicals that we’re being told are safe in the air, that’s definitely not safe for the animals … or people.”
A cocktail of deadly chemicals — including highly toxic vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride — spilt out after 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern Railroad train derailed en route to Pennsylvania.
Inhaling vinyl chloride fumes can induce dizziness, nausea, headache, and breathing complications, University of Toledo environmental engineering professor Ashok Kumar told ABC News.
Professor Kevin Crist, the director of Ohio University’s Air Quality Center, noted that the chemical can also cause cancer of the liver and other organs.
“Breathe those in under heavy concentrations, and it’s really bad for you,” Crist told the network. “It’s like an acid mist. It’s not something that you want to be around in high concentrations.”
Officials conducted a controlled burn in the area to avoid a “catastrophic tanker failure” that could have set off a gigantic explosion.
Thousands of residents near the site were still barred from returning to their homes four days after the accident.
Officials “out of an abundance of caution” closed schools near the derailment in East Palestine, a small community in northeastern Ohio on the border with Pennsylvania.
A one-mile by two-mile mandatory evacuation zone remained in effect around the 150-car derailment site.
Authorities warned residents outside the evacuation zone to shelter in their homes if at all possible.
“We are asking that you… only go outside if absolutely necessary,” the Springfield Township Fire & Rescue Department said in a statement late Monday.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also shred a more recent information sheet on vinyl chloride which said: “Human and animal studies show higher rates of liver, lung and several other types of cancer.
“Being exposed to vinyl chloride can affect a person’s liver, kidney, lung, spleen, nervous system and blood. People exposed to [extremely high] levels … may have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Damage to male sperm-producing organs has occurred in laboratory animals.”
“The vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars are currently unstable and could potentially explode,” said a statement on the website of the office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
The statement, released Monday afternoon, said Norfolk Southern planned “a controlled release” of the trapped gas to burn it off but that it could release fumes that are “deadly if inhaled.”
Vinyl chloride is a colourless gas used in a variety of plastic products and packaging materials. When burned it can create phosgene, a highly toxic substance used as a chemical weapon in World War I.
The mandatory evacuation zone comprises areas in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. “It is unknown when residents will be able to return to their homes but an announcement will be made when it is safe to return,” the Ohio governor’s statement said.
The cause of the derailment is still under investigation.
— with the New York Post