Chemical Cloud From Ohio Trail Derailment Reaches 16 States 

A chemical cloud that formed after the 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, ended up spreading air pollutants to 16 states at least, according to new research published in the Environmental Research Letters journal this week.

The cloud was created during what was a controlled burn of the chemicals that had spilled. Researchers from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported that the cloud reached as far south as North Carolina and as far north as New England.

The overall radius was in excess of 540,000 square miles.

While no one was killed or injured in the derailment, toxic chemicals spilled out as a result. That includes vinyl chloride.

Many local residents also complained about some animals dying and them developing rashes. They’re also concerned about what long-term health impacts they may suffer from that haven’t yet become evident.

For their study, the researchers analyzed ground samples that were taken between January 31 and February 14 of 2023. That represents time right before and then immediately after the crash, which occurred on February 3 of 2023.

They found evidence that there was high concentration of chloride in states such as Wisconsin, South Carolina and Virginia. There were high concentrations of the chemical on the Canadian-New York border, which was downwind of where the crash occurred.

Many pollutants dissipated in the weeks following the accident, but researchers found that there was precipitation in the affected region that ended up being less acidic than they had expected.

Precipitation that occurs in the Northeast typically falls between 5.2 and 5.8 on the pH scale. The lower the score is, the more acidic something is. Pure water is considered neutral, and has a pH of 7, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

According to the researchers, the pH level of the precipitation was lower when the accident had occurred.

That being said, they also found pH values were unprecedentedly high — meaning more basic — across a wide region that spans from the Northeast to the Midwest. And they found levels of earth metals and alkaline that were much more elevated than normal, with some measurements falling in the 99th percentile for the last 10 years.

In a statement, the lead researcher of the study and the coordinator of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program, David Gay, said:

“All of these pollutants are important in the environment because their accumulation has an impact on the Earth’s aquatic and terrestrial environments in many ways.”

In total, the researchers estimate that about 110 million residents were impacted in some way by the pollution. That represents one-third of the total population in the United States.

Eleven of the cars that were derailed in the incident were full of hazardous materials, with five of them containing the vinyl chloride. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that chemical is a colorless gas that’s highly volatile and is produced for various commercial uses.