Rural Ohio is Facing Comparisons to Chernobyl After a Massive Chemical Leak Caused by a Train Derailment

The other risk from the East Palestine derailment disaster - The Washington  Post
  • In East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, a train derailment resulted in chemical spillage.
  • Online commentary comparing the spill to the Chornobyl disaster in 1986 has already surfaced.
  • The Ohio incident resembles the nuclear disaster in some ways, but it also differs significantly.

Following the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, people on social media started posting images of a menacing black cloud looming over the city and expressed worries that it would become the next Chornobyl.

When 50 of a train’s 150 cars derailed, a fire engulfed the entire locomotive. The derailment caused vinyl chloride, a colorless gas used to make the plastic PVC, which was in the train’s ten full cars of hazardous materials, to be released into the air. It can be converted into chemicals like formaldehyde when exposed to sunlight.

Other flammable chemicals, like ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, and isobutylene were also present in the cars and released into the environment, according to a list compiled by the EPA.

Many of these substances are irritants to the respiratory system and eyes, or they have the potential to cause cancer.

The toxicity of these chemicals at first raised questions about the residents’ health and safety. Then came the comparisons to another disaster, one that happened nearly 40 years ago: The nuclear disaster in the city of Pripyat on April 26, 1986, which resulted in the spread of radioactive contaminants in Ukraine and across Europe.

The scale of Chornobyl’s devastation was much worse, despite the vivid imagery from Ohio leading some to believe the state is dealing with a mini-Chornobyl. Experts warn against ignoring the incident’s effects on the environment, though.

Chemicals Released During Both Disasters Were Carcinogenic, But Chornobyl Was Radioactive

The Chornobyl incident occurred after a series of safety measures during a nuclear reactor test were ignored, resulting in a huge explosion and fire that spread large amounts of radioactive chemicals like plutonium, iodine, strontium, and cesium.

Despite the fact that the train in East Palestine contained carcinogenic chemicals and that there were numerous small explosions after the derailment, many of these substances were burned in a controlled manner, creating a large black cloud over the city. In addition, the chemicals used in the East Palestine incident are not as powerful as the Chornobyl nuclear waste.

Nobody Died as a Result of the East Palestine Chemical Spill

As soon as the Chornobyl explosion was over, two people died. A month later, one cardiac arrest and close to 30 cases of acute radiation sickness among emergency personnel claimed 30 lives. Following the accident, it’s estimated that thousands may have died as a result of cancers and blood diseases caused by chemical exposure from the Chornobyl power plant — although these figures are still being disputed.

No fatalities have been attributed to the derailment or the subsequent fires and explosions in East Palestine, but locals report suffering from headaches, respiratory problems, sore throats, and other illnesses.

Following the derailment, numerous class action lawsuits have been brought against Norfolk Southern Railroad Company by locals who believe the company should be held accountable for the environmental and public health consequences.

There Have Been Reports of a Significant Amount of Animal Deaths

Residents report that foxes, chickens, and other domesticated animals have perished after chemicals were deliberately burned to prevent a deadly explosion. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 3,500 dead fish have also been found in four nearby waterways.

The effects of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl on animal life are still being investigated. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the explosion had an immediate impact on the health of animal populations, and radioactive exposure caused many plants and animals to mutate.

East Palestine Resulted in An Evacuation, But It Was Short-lived

Nearly 2,000 people in East Palestine were asked to leave after the derailment.

The evacuation zone was expanded to a 2-mile-wide radius zone on February 6 in preparation for the controlled burn in the Ohio city.

On February 8, officials announced that residents could return to their homes after the EPA determined that it did not detect contaminants at “levels of concern” in air and water samples. According to WESA, the Ohio EPA also declared that it would keep an eye on soil for any potential chemical leaching into groundwater.

But Chornobyl is Still Considered Uninhabitable

The Chornobyl explosion contaminated 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, and resulted in the evacuation of around 350,000 people who had to leave all their belongings behind. The power plant, which is still operational today, has a nuclear exclusion zone of 19 miles.

Russian troops visited the Chornobyl power plant again during the conflict in Ukraine and started making trenches nearby. Ukraine’s state nuclear agency claimed in March that Russians suffered “significant doses of radiation.” Ukrainian workers claimed in June that Russian soldiers later abandoned the plant in a chaotic state.

Hundreds of mostly elderly people have also returned to the zone — or never left — to live the rest of their lives in their hometowns. “Those who left are worse off now,” one woman said in the documentary “Chernobyl’s Babushka dolls.”

“They are all dying of sadness.”


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