Last Updated on February 13, 2023
In the days following a catastrophic train derailment that led to large amounts of toxic chemicals being released into the atmosphere in East Palestine, Ohio, those living in the area have reported animals falling ill and dying.
Taylor Holzer, the owner of a dairy farm just outside the “containment zone,” told WKBN several foxes he keeps on his property have fallen deathly ill. One of his foxes died a day after the accident, while another displayed a puffed up face and overall sickly expression.
“Out of nowhere, he just started coughing really hard, just shut down, and he had liquid diarrhea and just went very fast,” Holzer told the outlet about one of his foxes. He went on to say that a number of his foxes have displayed a puffy face, developed watery eyes and have uncharacteristically refused to eat. “Smoke and chemicals from the train, that’s the only thing that can cause it, because it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere,” Holzer said. “The chemicals that we’re being told are safe in the air, that’s definitely not safe for the animals … or people.”
The train that derailed carried large amounts of deadly chemicals, including the highly toxic vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride. The train derailed and spilled out the chemicals after 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern Railroad train en route to Pennsylvania.
Inhaling vinyl chloride fumes can induce dizziness, nausea, headache, and breathing complications, University of Toledo environmental engineering professor Ashok Kumar told ABC News.
Professor Kevin Crist, the director of Ohio University’s Air Quality Center, noted that inhaling the chemical can lead to cancer. “Breathe those in under heavy concentrations, and it’s really bad for you,” Crist told ABC. “It’s like an acid mist. It’s not something that you want to be around in high concentrations.”
After the derailment, officials authorized a controlled burn in the area to avoid a “catastrophic tanker failure” that could have set off a gigantic explosion. The act led to large quantities of the toxic chemical being burned off into the atmosphere, producing a massive smoke cloud that could be seen for miles.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official James Justice said the agency has been conducting constant air-monitoring tests that did not show any toxic threats, the New York Post reported. Residents were ultimately told it was safe to return to their homes shortly after a three-day mandatory evacuation.
The reports of animal deaths have caused alarm for returning residents, however. “My video camera footage shows my chickens were perfectly fine before they started this burn, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died,” said Amanda Breshears of North Lima. “If it can do this to chickens in one night, imagine what it’s going to do to us in 20 years.”
A previous spillage of vinyl chloride after a train derailment occurred in Paulsboro, New Jersey, in 2012. That state’s Department of Health compiled a fact sheet on the potential effects of exposure to humans that year which said stated: “It is not known whether short-term exposure to vinyl chloride can cause long-term health effects.”