EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Four of the train cars involved in the East Palestine train derailment were carrying a chemical called vinyl chloride. It is a very dangerous chemical when ingested or breathed in.
Officials tell First News the vinyl chloride is not on fire. One of the cars is slowly leaking pressure, which is what it is designed to do to prevent an explosion. But as other First News articles have detailed through previous coverage, the situation is still unstable.
What is vinyl chloride used for?
First News spoke with hazardous materials specialist Silverio Caggiano — who was a battalion chief with Youngstown fire for 39 years — and who breaks down the dangers of vinyl chloride.
“Vinyl chloride is what you used to make PVC pipe,” Caggiano said. “You use it to make the casings that go on the outside of electrical wires. It has a wide variety of usages.”
Is vinyl chloride dangerous?
Caggiano has spent close to four decades working as a hazardous materials specialist and said being exposed to vinyl chloride can be extremely dangerous and so are the by-product chemicals it gives off if it were to burn.
“Vinyl chloride in of itself is cancerous. Some of the other stuff is just as bad. The hydrogen chloride is bad enough that when you inhale it, it mixes with the water in your lungs and you could have acid burns in your lungs,” Caggiano said.
Who is most at risk when inhaling vinyl chloride?
He says anyone with pre-existing lung or breathing problems is more at risk.
“If you have, you know, asthma, emphysema, COPD, stay in and keep your evacuation distances away,” Caggiano said. “Don’t go outside because this stuff will affect you a lot quicker.”
What should you do if vinyl chloride catches fire?
He suggests if the vinyl chloride does catch fire, to get farther away from the site of the train if you can and stay sheltered inside away from the chemicals.
“They could kill you because of the damage they could do to your respiratory system. Because most of the damage with this is going to be inhalatory. So this is some bad stuff,” Caggiano said.
According to the FAQs page on Norfolk Southern’s website, “Vinyl chloride and other substances associated with the derailment exist in the air as a vapor. They evaporate quickly and do not absorb into household materials. It is not necessary to undertake any special cleaning of household items or air, and any odors present in indoor air will dissipate. In addition, vinyl chloride and other substances associated with the derailment are not known to cause damage to vehicles or structures.”
Again, First News wants to remind you that officials have told us the vinyl chloride is not currently on fire. This story is to warn you in case that situation changes. There were a total of 20 cars carrying hazardous material that derailed — including the 4 with the vinyl chloride. So far officials have not told us what was in those containers.