A train derailment involving plastics feedstock vinyl chloride monomer has led to the evacuation of part of a small town in Ohio.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on the evening of Feb. 3. The derailment led to a large fire at the site. The train included several cars loaded with VCM, a feedstock used to make PVC.
The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. NSTB board member Michael Graham gave media briefings on the East Palestine accident on Feb. 4 and 5. On Feb. 4, Graham said the accident happened shortly before 9 p.m. on Feb. 3 as the train was traveling east from Madison, Ill., to Conway, Pa.
The train included 150 railcars, 50 of them were involved in the crash. Initially, investigators believed that 20 of those railcars carried hazardous materials, including 14 carrying VCM, but on Feb. 5, Graham said the number of hazardous materials railcars was only 10.
On Feb. 4, Graham said that the railcars carrying VCM had been exposed to fire and that one of those was releasing pressure as designed to prevent an explosion.
On Feb. 5, Graham said that the preliminary cause of the derailment was a mechanical issue on an axle of one of the railcars. He added that no injuries were reported from the three-person crew on board the train.
Local fire departments were getting the fire under control until the situation worsened on Feb. 5. Residents living within 1 mile of the site have been asked to evacuate.
"Within the last two hours, a drastic temperature change has taken place in a rail car," officials said in a release from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. "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."
They added that more than 500 people have declined to leave their homes. DeWine activated the Ohio National Guard the evening of Feb. 5. The Ohio EPA, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ohio Emergency Management Agency already are active at the site.
East Palestine has a population of about 5,000. It's located 15 miles south of Youngstown and about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.