On February 3, a train carrying a variety of toxic chemicals derailed near the small Ohio town of East Palestine, and residents have a lot of legitimate concerns. Here’s what we know so far and what it means for local residents..
The Train Derailment
On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. 38 train cars derailed, including 11 that were carrying hazardous materials. Another 12 cars were damaged by fire. Shortly after the crash it was discovered that vinyl chloride was escaping from one of the cars.
In the short term, inhaling vinyl chloride can cause headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, skin irritation, respiratory tract irritation and other symptoms. Inhaling high levels of vinyl chloride can cause fainting, and can even be fatal. In the longer term, vinyl chloride may cause liver cancer or other serious conditions.
Later, it was revealed that additional toxic substances may have been released, to varying degrees.
Evacuation Orders After the Ohio Train Derailment
More than two days after the derailment, residents near the derailment site were ordered to evacuate. Officials warned that a significant rise in temperature in one of the cars suggested a high likelihood of toxic gas release, an explosion, or both. The following afternoon, February 6, the evacuation order was expanded as Norfolk Southern prepared for a controlled release–burning off of chemicals to prevent an explosion.
The Governor’s order warned that:
…the controlled release process involves the burning of the rail cars’ chemicals, which will release fumes into the air that can be deadly if inhaled. Based on current weather patterns and the expected flow of the smoke and fumes, anyone who remains in the red affected area is facing grave danger of death. Anyone who remains in the yellow impacted area is at a high risk of severe injury, including skin burns and serious lung damage.
Two days after the controlled release, residents were cleared to return to their homes. But many remain uncertain.
Effects of the Train Derailment and Chemical Release
The full extent of the harm caused by the introduction of toxic chemicals into the environment around East Palestine is not yet known. Many local residents suffering from headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms have reportedly been told by local doctors that their symptoms are attributable to other causes, such as colds.
They’ve also been told that the municipal water supply has been tested and is safe to drink, though those with private wells are encouraged to conduct testing. But with an odor lingering in the air, thousands of dead fish, and reports of illness in local farm animals, many are skeptical. Some haven’t returned to their homes and aren’t sure when or whether they should. Many are understandably worried about possible long-term effects, such as the increased risk of developing liver cancer and other cancers, including lung cancer, brain cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and others.
While the health risks are rightly front and center right now, there are economic concerns as well. If property values are impacted by the contamination, it may be difficult for those residents who have decided they don’t want to risk staying in the area to move on.
Federal Assistance on the Way
On February 16, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine and assured residents that they are testing for everything that was on the train. He also said Norfolk Southern had accepted responsibility for the cleanup. As of this writing, medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are en route to conduct public health testing.
While the full scope of possible damages associated with the train derailment and toxic chemical exposure isn’t yet known, there are a wide variety of possibilities including:
- Reimbursement for medical expenses
- Compensation for lost work time and other expenses associated with evacuation
- Compensation for damage to property, such as contamination of farmlands
- Compensation for pain and suffering and other intangible impacts to those who got sick from the initial exposure or develop more serious medical conditions later
If you inadvertently waive your rights, you could end up responsible for these expenses.
Watch Out for Toxic Chemical Cleanup Scams
Unfortunately, any situation that puts people in difficult circumstances brings scammers out of the woodwork. For example, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when it was difficult to get tested, many people got phone calls saying that they had been reported as a close contact of someone who had tested positive for the virus and someone would be sent to their home to conduct a test–as soon as they made a $50 credit card payment over the phone.
We can’t predict every type of scam that may grow out of this situation, so exercise caution if you are contacted by someone offering to do testing or cleanup. If you want to undertake those actions on your own, find a reputable contractor yourself rather than responding to random solicitations. And consider speaking with an attorney before you take any action, since you may end up responsible for costs that might otherwise have been absorbed by Norfolk Southern.
If someone claims to be a representative of a state or federal agency, verify.
Talk to an Experienced Ohio Injury Lawyer as Soon as Possible
If you and your family have been impacted by the East Palestine train derailment, it’s in your best interests to get legal advice as soon as possible, before you make missteps that may harm or cut off any claim you may have.
Not every law firm is equipped to handle a case of this magnitude, which will likely involve extensive medical and scientific evidence and will require the use of expert witnesses. It’s also important for your representation to have deep knowledge of Ohio law and familiarity with the Ohio judicial system. Many large national law firms are reaching out to East Palestine residents. They may have good lawyers, but they don’t have decades of experience representing people in Ohio courts.
At Plevin & Gallucci, we have both. Our attorneys have extensive experience with complex tort claims, including having secured a seven-figure chemical exposure settlement for a client and as part of the team representing Cuyahoga County in the landmark opioid case that settled for more than $300 million. And, we’ve been representing injury victims in Ohio for more than 50 years.
We know how important it is for you to get reliable advice as soon as possible, so we offer free consultations. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-4PLEVIN or filling out the contact form on this page.