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Daily News Blog

21
Feb

Toxic Train Derailment Raises Need for Systemic Change  

(Beyond Pesticides, February 21, 2023) The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, should be a reminder to all of us that problems with our reliance on toxic chemicals go beyond broadcasting them on fields. In order to get pesticides to their point of use, toxic precursors and ingredients must be transported. Toxic waste products are also delivered to a location where they may be burned or deposited in a landfill. In weighing the hazards of toxic pesticides, these ancillary hazards should also be considered.

Tell EPA and Congress that all impacts of toxic chemicals—from cradle to grave—must be considered before allowing their use.     

The freight train that derailed February 3, 2023 in East Palestine was carrying a number of toxic chemicals. EPA notified the railroad, “EPA has spent, or is considering spending, public funds to investigate and control releases of hazardous substances or potential releases of hazardous substances at the Site. Based on information presently available to EPA, EPA has determined that Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern or “you”) may be responsible under CERCLA [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act–Superfund] for cleanup of the Site or costs EPA has incurred in cleaning up the Site.”

But what are the toxic chemicals, and why were they being transported?

As of February 10, EPA says, “[V]inyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether are known to have been and continue to be released to the air, surface soils, and surface waters.”

The toxic chemicals on the train include vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE). The first four are all precursors in plastic manufacture. All except butyl acrylate are pesticide “inert” ingredients, and EGBE is an antimicrobial active ingredient as well. So, the manufacture of pesticides and plastics requires that toxic chemicals be transported.

Looking a little deeper, vinyl chloride has justly received prominence in news reports. Vinyl chloride is a highly flammable chlorinated hydrocarbon that may emit toxic fumes of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and phosgene when heated to decomposition. Although it is a gas under normal conditions, it is shipped under pressure as a liquid. Exposure affects the nervous system and causes liver damage. Prolonged exposure can result in joint and muscle pain and skin damage. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen that is associated with liver cancer, brain and lung cancer, and cancers of the lymphatic and hematopoietic system. Phosgene itself is a major industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides. It can damage the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and has been used as a chemical warfare agent. Exposure to hydrogen chloride can cause serious respiratory damage (depending on the amount of exposure), as well as irritation or burns to eyes or skin.

Ethylhexyl acrylate is highly irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. It can cause corneal lesions, and breathing high concentrations of the vapors can lead to pulmonary edema. IARC classifies it in Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans. Butyl acrylate is irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. Inhalation can result in toxic pneumonitis. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) puts it in Group 3, not classifiable for carcinogenicity to humans. Isobutylene is a neurotoxin and asphyxiant. EGBE is neurotoxic. It causes damage to the liver and kidneys. Exposure can result in hemolytic anemia and damage to the reproductive system. IARC puts it in Group 3, not classifiable for carcinogenicity to humans.

All these toxic chemicals are being transported over roads and rails that run through the most densely populated parts of the country. According to the Federal Rail Administration, at least one train derails every day in the United States, and reports have warned of risks of similar accidents across the country. Although trains are considered the safest way to transport hazardous materials, train accidents resulted in releases of hazardous chemicals 11 times in 2022, down from 20 times in 2018 and 2020. Although hazardous materials account for only 7-8% of the 30 million shipments delivered by rail every year, at least a couple cars of hazardous materials can be found on most trains. The train that derailed in East Palestine, for example, also carried medical cotton balls, automobiles, and frozen vegetables.

The worst railroad disaster in recent history occurred in 2013 when the brakes failed on an unattended train carrying 72 tankers of petroleum crude oil, which ended its 65 mph descent into the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic by derailing and erupting in flames. Most of the town’s downtown core, including dozens of homes, were destroyed. Forty-seven people died, and 26,000 gallons of oil seeped into nearby Chaudiere river. Soil and structures took years to clean up.

In 2013, just outside the town of Casselton, ND, a crude oil train collided with several cars from a grain train that had derailed, sending fireballs into the air. Residents were saved by the fact that the collision occurred outside of town.

In 2005, nine people died and more than 250 were injured in Graniteville, SC, when a train carrying chlorine gas ran into a sidelined train due to a misplaced switch.

In 1991, California’s worst hazardous chemical spill resulted from a train derailment just outside of Dunsmuir as the train was crossing the Sacramento River near Mt. Shasta. About 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a highly toxic pesticide still used as a fungicide and herbicide, flowed into the river. Residents of the town of Dunsmuir were evacuated. The chemical killed fish, other aquatic organisms, and plants in the river and seeped into the soil, contaminating the shallow ground water aquifers. Wildlife was affected by the contamination of their water supply and by the gases in the air.

The examples above are a small sample of transportation accidents that released toxic chemicals, killing people and contaminating the environment. In assessing blame, attention is typically focused on those running the trains (or ships or trucks). But why are those toxic chemicals being transported through cities, towns, and sensitive environments? They are on their way to be turned into products.

When those products are pesticides—also toxic chemicals that will be transported to the sites where they will be used—EPA, as the agency responsible for allowing pesticides to be used, must, but does not, take into account the potential for death and destruction from transportation accidents. In applying the legal standard of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act—of no unreasonable adverse effects—EPA must look at those adverse effects from manufacture to disposal, from cradle to grave, and weigh them against measured “benefits” of using the pesticides.

Tell EPA and Congress that all impacts of toxic chemicals—from cradle to grave—must be considered before allowing their use.     

Letter to EPA Administrator:

The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, should be a reminder that problems with reliance on toxic chemicals goes beyond their use. To get pesticides to their point of use, toxic precursors and ingredients must be transported. Toxic waste products are also delivered to a location where they may be burned or deposited in a landfill. In weighing the hazards of toxic pesticides, these ancillary hazards should also be considered.

The freight train that derailed February 3, 2023 in East Palestine was carrying toxic chemicals. But what are the toxic chemicals, and why were they being transported?

The toxic chemicals on the train include vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE). The first four are all precursors in plastic manufacture. All except butyl acrylate are pesticide “inert” ingredients, and EGBE is an antimicrobial active ingredient as well. The manufacture of pesticides and plastics requires that toxic chemicals be transported.

Vinyl chloride is a highly flammable chlorinated hydrocarbon that may emit toxic fumes of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and phosgene when heated to decomposition. Exposure affects the nervous system and causes liver damage. Prolonged exposure can result in joint and muscle pain and skin damage. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen that is associated with liver cancer, brain and lung cancer, and cancers of the lymphatic and hematopoietic system. Phosgene itself is a major industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides. It can damage the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and has been used as a chemical warfare agent. Exposure to hydrogen chloride can cause serious respiratory damage (depending on the amount of exposure), as well as irritation or burns to eyes or skin.

Other toxic chemicals on the train are known to have health effects including corneal lesions, pulmonary edema, reproductive toxicity, and neurotoxic effects.

All these toxic chemicals are being transported over roads and rails that run through the most densely populated parts of the country. According to the Federal Rail Administration, at least one train derails every day in the United States. Train accidents resulted in releases of hazardous chemicals 11 times in 2022, and 20 times in 2018 and 2020. At least a couple cars of hazardous materials can be found on most trains.

The 2013 derailment of an unattended train carrying 72 petroleum crude oil destroyed the core of the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and releasing 26,000 gallons of oil into the Chaudiere river.

In 2005, nine people died and more than 250 were injured in Graniteville, SC, when a train carrying chlorine gas ran into a sidelined train.

In 1991, a train derailment just outside of Dunsmuir, CA dumped about 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a highly toxic pesticide still used as a fungicide and herbicide, into the Sacramento River, resulting in evacuation of Dunsmuir and environmental contamination.

This small sample of transportation accidents that released toxic chemicals, causing death and destruction, causes me to ask, “Why are those toxic chemicals being transported through cities, towns, and sensitive environments?” Many are on their way to be turned pesticides—also toxic chemicals that will be transported to the sites where they will be used. In applying FIFRA’s standard of no unreasonable adverse effects, EPA must look at those adverse effects from manufacture to disposal, from cradle to grave, and weigh them against measured “benefits” of using the pesticides, given the availability of alternatives.

Thank you.

Letter to U.S. Senators and Representative:

The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, should be a reminder that problems with reliance on toxic chemicals goes beyond their use. To get pesticides to their point of use, toxic precursors and ingredients must be transported. Toxic waste products are also delivered to a location where they may be burned or deposited in a landfill. In weighing the hazards of toxic pesticides, these ancillary hazards should also be considered.

The freight train that derailed February 3, 2023 in East Palestine was carrying toxic chemicals. But what are the toxic chemicals, and why were they being transported?

The toxic chemicals on the train include vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE). The first four are all precursors in plastic manufacture. All except butyl acrylate are pesticide “inert” ingredients, and EGBE is an antimicrobial active ingredient as well. The manufacture of pesticides and plastics requires that toxic chemicals be transported.

Vinyl chloride is a highly flammable chlorinated hydrocarbon that may emit toxic fumes of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and phosgene when heated to decomposition. Exposure affects the nervous system and causes liver damage. Prolonged exposure can result in joint and muscle pain and skin damage. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen that is associated with liver cancer, brain and lung cancer, and cancers of the lymphatic and hematopoietic system. Phosgene itself is a major industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides. It can damage the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and has been used as a chemical warfare agent. Exposure to hydrogen chloride can cause serious respiratory damage (depending on the amount of exposure), as well as irritation or burns to eyes or skin.

Other toxic chemicals on the train are known to have health effects including corneal lesions, pulmonary edema, reproductive toxicity, and neurotoxic effects.

All these toxic chemicals are being transported over roads and rails that run through the most densely populated parts of the country. According to the Federal Rail Administration, at least one train derails every day in the United States. Train accidents resulted in releases of hazardous chemicals 11 times in 2022, and 20 times in 2018 and 2020. At least a couple cars of hazardous materials can be found on most trains.

The 2013 derailment of an unattended train carrying 72 petroleum crude oil destroyed the core of the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and releasing 26,000 gallons of oil into the Chaudiere river.

In 2005, nine people died and more than 250 were injured in Graniteville, SC, when a train carrying chlorine gas ran into a sidelined train.

In 1991, a train derailment just outside of Dunsmuir, CA dumped about 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a highly toxic pesticide still used as a fungicide and herbicide, into the Sacramento River, resulting in evacuation of Dunsmuir and environmental contamination.

This small sample of transportation accidents that released toxic chemicals, causing death and destruction, causes me to ask, “Why are those toxic chemicals being transported through cities, towns, and sensitive environments?” Many are on their way to be turned pesticides—also toxic chemicals that will be transported to the sites where they will be used.

Please ensure that in applying the standard of no unreasonable adverse effects, EPA looks at those adverse effects from manufacture to disposal, from cradle to grave, and weighs them against measured “benefits” of using the pesticides, given the availability of alternatives.

Thank you.

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