Fallout from Ohio train crash affected 16 states

One of the most dramatic air pollution stories of last year was the train derailment near the town of East Palestine, Ohio on 3rd February.

Fifty-three of 150 train cars were ‘compromised’ by the derailment, and 20 of these were carrying hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, benzene, ethylene glycol, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate and isobutylene.

Over a year later, a new study has examined the environmental impact of the crash, finding that it has affected parts of 16 states and 110 million people – one third of the US population.

Researchers from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were able to use precipitation chemistry measurements (samples found in rain and snow) – which are routinely collected by the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) – to estimate the extent and composition of chemicals deposited as a result of the accident.

Their measurements revealed a large area impact from the Midwest through the Northeast and possibly, they speculate, as far as Canada to the north and  North Carolina to the south.

The findings are significant as many of the pollutants in found in the rain and snow will potentially have a chemical effects on plants and animals over an area of 1.4 million square kilometers.

Lead researcher and coordinator of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, David Gay, said: ‘Our measurements not only show the expected high chloride concentrations, but also the vast geographical area they covered. However, even more surprising are the unexpectedly high pH levels (more basic) and exceptionally elevated alkali and alkaline earth metals, exceeding the 99th percentiles of the last ten years of measurements.

‘All of these pollutants are important in the environment because their accumulation has an impact on the Earth’s aquatic and terrestrial environments in many ways.

‘This study demonstrates the important role of a nationwide network for routine precipitation monitoring. Our observations allowed us to determine the regional atmospheric impact from the accident and subsequent response activities.’

While the current NADP networks do not quantify organic compounds that might be more specific tracers of the train cargo, the documented widespread impacts on precipitation suggest a significant amount of chemical pollution falling to the earth’s surface as a result of the accident.

The full report can be read here

Photo: IOP Publishing

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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