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New study reveals disturbing effects of decision following catastrophic train crash: 'I didn't expect to see an impact this far out'

"There's more going on here than most people would have guessed."

"There's more going on here than most people would have guessed."

Photo Credit: Columbiana County Commissioner’s Office

Pollution following a train derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border spread carcinogens to 16 states, The Washington Post reported.

What happened?

The publication explained that in February 2023, a train experienced mechanical issues near East Palestine, Ohio, and more than 50 cars derailed. Some of the cars were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen.

Officials authorized a controlled burn of these hazardous materials to prevent an explosion — but as the vinyl chloride burned, it broke down into chloride and hydrogen ions. Those ions then got carried by wind to other areas.

Now, a study has revealed that the pollutants spread much farther than previously thought, reaching 16 states and affecting a 540,000-square-mile area. The report said that the toxic chemicals "rained down" throughout the affected area, including in Wisconsin and South Carolina.

"I didn't expect to see an impact this far out," lead author David Gay told the Post.  "There's more going on here than most people would have guessed, including me."

Why is this study concerning?

In the area immediately surrounding the accident — including East Palestine, where around 5,000 people reside — citizens reported symptoms such as rashes, nausea, and headaches.

The researchers told the Post that while people farther away experienced lower concentrations of contaminants, the levels were still "pretty unusual." 

Juliane Beier, an expert on the effects of vinyl chloride at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study, told the Post that people should still be concerned, as scientists do not yet know the long-term impacts of these kinds of environmental exposures. 

Plus, the contaminants, which fell in rain and settled into soil, could run off, affecting plant and animal life. 

What's being done about harmful pollutants?

There are a number of programs across the country that monitor for harmful pollutants. For instance, this study was facilitated by data that is routinely collected through the National Atmospheric Deposition Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The program collects information from 260 sites across North America each week. Gay, who serves as the coordinator, uses the information to monitor air pollutants.

While it's impossible to avoid all environmental pollutants, there are things you can do to reduce their impact on your health. For instance, to protect yourself from outdoor air pollution, you can buy an air cleaner or purifier or a HEPA filter. You should also regularly check the air pollution levels in your area and reduce your time outside if the air quality is not good.

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