East Palestine residents return after train hauling chemicals derails
East Palestine residents returned home following evacuations after a train hauling chemicals derailed in Ohio.
Claire Hardwick, USA TODAY
The claim: A ‘massive death plume’ is raining down hydrochloric acid after Ohio train derailment
A Feb. 13 Facebook post (direct link, archived link) shows a screenshot of a tweet about the Feb. 3 Ohio train derailment.
“A massive death plume spanning multiple counties in Ohio is raining down hydrochloric acid onto people,” reads the tweet, “because a bomb train carrying vinyl chloride was deliberately classified as non-hazardous to save Norfolk Southern money and regulatory inconveniences.”
The Facebook post generated over 100 shares in less than a week, while the original tweet amassed over 100,000 likes.
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Our rating: False
Environmental experts said that there is no “massive death plume” raining hydrochloric acid on Ohio residents following the Feb. 3 trail derailment.
There is no ‘massive death plume’ raining acid, experts say
A train operated by Norfolk Southern was traveling to Pennsylvania on Feb. 3 when 38 rail cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, igniting a fire and damaging an additional 12 cars, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. At least 11 of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials.
Authorities chose to breach five tankers filled with vinyl chloride, a flammable gas associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, to avoid a major explosion. The breach sent hydrogen chloride – a gas that can irritate the eyes, skin and nose – and toxic phosgene gas into the air.
Vinyl chloride in the atmosphere breaks down into hydrochloric acid, a component of acid rain, according to The Enquirer. Hydrochloric acid is a chemical compound that can cause severe chemical burns and blindness, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
But there has been no hydrochloric acid rain in Ohio, James Lee, a spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, told USA TODAY in an email.
Fact check: Baseless claim that Ohio train derailment was a ‘false flag’ operation
Peter DeCarlo, an associated professor in the department of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told USA TODAY he has seen no reports of a giant plume of hydrochloric acid or acid rain following the trail derailment.
Testing inside and outside the evacuation zone around East Palestine also showed that the air returned to normal levels that would have been seen before the derailment, James Justice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the Associated Press.
A plume of chemicals stemming from the train derailment has been moving down the Ohio River, according to WTAP-TV. Trace amounts of butyl acrylate were found in the water but will not affect drinking water from the river, Tim Barker, treatment operation supervisor for the Parkersburg Utility Board, told the outlet.
Train was mixed freight, not high-hazard
The post also claims the train was “deliberately classified as non-hazardous to save Norfolk Southern money and regulatory inconveniences.” Both the NTSB and the railroad said that description is wrong.
Ohio train derailment fact check: What’s true and what’s false?
Conner Spielmaker, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, described the post as “absolutely false. He said in an email the post appears to be referencing the fact that the train wasn’t classified as a high-hazard flammable train.
A high-hazard flammable train consists of 20 or more consecutive flammable-liquid rail tank cars or 35 or more flammable-liquid rail tank cars interspersed throughout the train, according to the Department of Transportation.
The Ohio train was considered a mixed freight train because it contained only three placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars, according to a Feb. 16 tweet from Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
“This train did not meet the regulatory definition of a high-hazard flammable train,” Spielmaker said. “Norfolk Southern does not choose to designate trains high-hazard flammable trains or not. They either are or are not based on the definition.”
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
- Connor Spielmaker, Feb. 17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- James Lee, Feb. 16, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Peter DeCarlo, Feb. 17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Jennifer Homendy, Feb. 16, Tweet
- USA TODAY, Feb. 4, Train derailment in northeastern Ohio causes massive fire, evacuations
- Associated Press, Feb. 8, What is vinyl chloride? Toxic gases connected to Ohio train derailment cause concern
- Associated Press, Feb. 8, Officials lift evacuation order for residents near Ohio train derailment; air quality deemed ‘safe’
- National Transportation Safety Board, Feb. 14, NTSB Issues Investigative Update on Ohio Train Derailment
- Virginia Department of Health, accessed Feb. 17, Hydrochloric Acid
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 21, 2019, Hydrogen Chloride
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 22, 2019, Phosgene
- Department of Transportation, accessed Feb. 17, Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains Final Rulemaking
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