Despite fears of a “catastrophic” explosion near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, crews in Ohio began releasing hazardous chemicals from five cars of a derailed train.
On Monday afternoon, a loud boom and a large plume of black smoke were seen, which officials also called a “controlled explosion.” The Pennsylvania emergency management agency said Monday evening that even though the smoke appeared alarming, everything went according to plan.
Air and water measurements found by the agency were not alarming. The governor of Pennsylvania urged residents to stay indoors. According to Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Scott Deutsch, the release process involves creating a small hole in each tank car and allowing substances to sink into a pit, which is then ignited. On Monday, Deutsch said, “We are doing this so that we can control these tank cars that we are concerned about.”
Gov. Mike DeWine approved the controlled release in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier on Monday. DeWine said waiting until the cars broke down themselves would have been more difficult.
A police officer canvassed East Palestine to evacuate any remaining residents. DeWine issued an evacuation order for residents living within a mile of the derailment site on Sunday evening. The evacuation order has been extended to residents living within a one-mile-by-two-mile radius of the site, including parts of Pennsylvania, as a result of the operation. The release of chemicals could be deadly if inhaled. The chemicals could also cause burns or serious lung damage.
According to officials, the derailed cars contained hazardous materials such as vinyl chloride, phosgene and combustible liquids. Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency officials are monitoring air quality and sampling water from Sulphur Run, a nearby stream, for contamination. Residents were assured that the air and water were safe as of Sunday afternoon.
Ten of the 50 derailed cars contained hazardous materials – five of them contained vinyl chloride, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. This fire resulted in a strong odor around the area, according to member station WOSU.
During a press conference on Sunday, the agency said investigations are ongoing, but preliminary findings indicate one of the rail car axles experienced mechanical issues. Three crew members on the train were able to escape unharmed, the agency said.