A new report from environmentalists says that 3 million people are at risk from train accidents like the one that saw vinyl chloride monomer spill and burn last year in East Palestine, Ohio.
The groups are urging governments to put more restrictions on VCM.
The Jan. 22 report from the groups Toxic-Free Future and Material Research says it is the first to follow the train's likely path from Oxy Vinyls LP VCM feedstock plants in Texas to PVC resin facilities in New Jersey, and to document that 3 million people live within the one-mile evacuation zone of the tracks.
TFF said its research highlights the potential for a repeat of the East Palestine VCM spill and controlled burn in other communities along the 2,000-mile route, and it urged the Environmental Protection Agency to use its power under the Toxic Substances Control Act to ban vinyl chloride.
The EPA announced in December it would put VCM under a high-priority TSCA risk assessment for legacy chemicals, following pressure from environmental and community groups who pointed to health concerns. That review, however, will take at least four years to complete.
The TFF report was released the same week that a Senate hearing in Washington also took up EPA's VCM review. One Republican senator, Oklahoma's Markwayne Mullin, questioned whether the agency could be fair but Democrats defended the EPA.
An EPA official at the Jan. 24 hearing told Mullin the agency has not prejudged its review, and said as with other TSCA chemical risk assessments, any EPA decision could ultimately include steps that stop short of a ban, like recommendations in how VCM is used or manufactured.
The TFF report said its research showed that up to 36 million pounds of VCM are being shipped at any moment from two Oxy Vinyls VCM factories in Texas to PVC plants in New Jersey, Illinois and Ontario.
It estimated that about 8,600 rail cars carry 1.5 billion pounds of VCM each year from Oxy Vinyls facilities, and noted a 2012 accident in New Jersey involving a VCM train headed for an Oxy Vinyls plant there.
TFF also used the report to launch a campaign urging retailer Home Depot to stop selling PVC flooring and other building products.
"The people of East Palestine were forced to learn the hard way that tank cars of vinyl chloride rumbling through your town can mean disaster for your health and your community," said Mike Schade, the report's co-author. "Retailers like The Home Depot need to take this lesson and move from PVC to safer materials that don't put communities at risk."
Hilary Flint, the vice president of the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment, said in the TFF statement that she links health problems she's had for a year, including sinus congestion, irritated eyes, skin rashes and bloody noses, to the train derailment and spill of 887,000 pounds of VCM from five Norfolk Southern railcars Feb. 3, 2023.
"Vinyl chloride was found just outside my bedroom window and I'm convinced the chemicals from the train derailment have significantly affected my health," Flint said. "The only advice my doctor could give me was to remove myself from my home. So I'm currently footing the bill for a rental home and utilities on top of the home my family has lived in for four generations."
The TFF report also pointed to a proposal from Washington state officials last year that would potentially regulate chlorinated products like PVC under the state's toxic chemicals law, which TFF said was the strongest such law in the states.
Oxy Vinyls, the largest maker of VCM and one of the largest producers of PVC in the U.S., declined to comment on the TFF report, saying it does not discuss the transportation of its products.
The head of the Washington-based Vinyl Institute, which represents PVC and VCM manufacturers, said safety is key for the industry.
"Safety is the No. 1 priority of the vinyl industry," said VI President and CEO Ned Monroe. "U.S. manufacturers of PVC and vinyl chloride monomer adhere to some of the most stringent safety and environmental regulations in the chemical industry."
In a statement, he also repeated VI statements that it believes the EPA's review will demonstrate VCM's safety and said the industry will work with the government "to ensure the agency has all the data necessary to complete a high-quality evaluation."
"Such a high-quality evaluation by the EPA will further assure that production of vinyl chloride and PVC products are safe," Monroe said.