Railroad: Controlled release of chemicals in East Palestine derailment ‘completed successfully’
A controlled release of hazardous chemicals from a derailed train in East Palestine has been "completed successfully," according to a statement from Norfolk Southern.
The release began Monday evening after officials urged residents to evacuate a one-mile by two-mile area surrounding the site of a 50-car train that derailed Friday night and has been on fire since.
Five cars contained the chemical vinyl chloride, which is a known carcinogen. Two cars were filled with the chemical, three are halfway full or less, totaling approximately 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride, officials said.
"Some of the material is now burning off consistent with expectations from the earlier models, and is expected to drain for a short number of hours," the train operator's Monday night statement read.
A fireball and black plume of smoke after the controlled release could be seen Monday night, rising over the town 20 miles south of Youngstown along the Pennsylvania border.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring air quality. Norfolk Southern said remediation at the derailment site will now continue.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered an urgent evacuation notice to residents living within a mile of the derailment late Sunday night, when a drastic temperature shift created the environment for a "catastrophic tanker failure" that could lead to an explosion with deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile while releasing toxic fumes.
Monday, the governor changed the order to expand to a one-mile-by-two-mile area surrounding East Palestine, which includes Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"We were in a position where we had to weigh different risks with no great choices," DeWine said.
To control the burning, a hole was made in the cars to allow the material to run into a pit dug for the operation. Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern Railroad explained that flares inside the pit were used to ignite the chemicals.
"If we don't do that, the car could continue to polymerize and the entire car could break apart. We can't control where that goes, so that's the reason for doing this, get moving on this is that we don't have to run into letting the car do it itself," Deutsch said before the operation was carried out. "We want to be able to control that situation. That's the safest way to control the situation, and that's what this operation we're going to take this afternoon."
The burning of vinyl chloride could be deadly to people within a one mile radius of the site, DeWine said. Those two miles away could face severe injury, including skin burns and lung damage, he said.
It's believed that most residents of the area have evacuated, DeWine said.
"We have no knowledge that anybody's left, but we did not want to take any chances," DeWine said Monday afternoon.
The Ohio National Guard worked ahead of the controlled release to ensure everyone was evacuated, he said. On the Pennsylvania side, the 20 households in Beaver County in danger were evacuated, with most residents leaving Sunday night, Beaver County Commissioner Daniel Camp confirmed.
It's unknown when residents can return to their homes, DeWine said.
"It's not going to be immediate," DeWine said. "It's not going to be quickly."
The U.S. and Ohio EPA have been on the scene all weekend. They are monitoring air and water quality. There have been cases of water contamination and fish have been affected, the Ohio EPA confirmed.
DeWine Monday afternoon urged any residents still in the area to evacuate immediately.
"You need to leave. You just need to leave. We're ordering you to leave," DeWine pleaded. "This is a matter of life and death. You are in imminent danger. You need to leave immediately."