Several railcars containing plastics feedstock vinyl chloride monomer have been drained and the material burned off after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
"The controlled breach of several rail cars has been completed successfully under the supervision of experts and first responders," officials with the Norfolk Southern railroad said in a statement late Feb. 6.
"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," they added. "We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio [Environmental Protection Agency]. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue."
The derailment took place on the evening of Feb. 3 and led to a large fire at the site. The train included several cars loaded with VCM, a feedstock used to make PVC.
A report from WFMJ-TV in Youngstown said that the train also contained plastic resins, butyl acrylate and benzene residue.
Officials with Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern said on the firm's website that air quality levels in the area are safe and that drinking water is not at risk. They added that odors from the site could be detected even if air quality levels are safe.
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 a one-mile-by-two-mile grid of the site were asked to evacuate.
Officials said in a Feb. 5 release from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that more than 500 people have declined to leave their homes. A Feb. 6 statement from DeWine's office said that most individuals have already left the impacted areas, but law enforcement in both states were working to ensure that all individuals have left the vicinity prior to the controlled release.
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.