Air quality has become a point of national attention in recent weeks as a controlled chemical fire from a train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio has raised health and safety concerns among nearby residents. This fire has created a vast plume of thick, black smoke that could potentially be introducing toxic compounds into the air nearby. Here’s what you need to know about the chemicals that are being burned in the East Palestine fire and how they could affect human health.
What Chemicals Are Burning in the Ohio Chemical Fire?
The train carried multiple chemicals, but the controlled burn that has become a national news story involved vinyl chloride. The most notable use of this chemical is in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a widely used building material.
According to the CDC, exposure to vinyl chloride gas can affect the central nervous system, as well as cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system. Chronic exposure can result in liver damage and/or cancer of the liver. Through its effect on the nervous system, vinyl chloride can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue, among other symptoms.
What Are Officials Saying About Air Quality Near East Palestine?
Despite widespread concerns among residents and local officials (see below), the EPA maintains that the controlled burn of vinyl chloride has not had a substantial effect on air quality in the area. The agency says that it has tested air quality in 500 individual homes and found them to be safe for human habitation. The EPA has also deployed mobile and stationary air quality monitoring in the area to identify potential health hazards. Thus far, the EPA says that it has not found any significant evidence that the vinyl chloride being burned near the train has contributed to unhealthy air conditions.
Why Others Aren’t So Sure
Despite the EPA’s official stance that the train derailment in East Palestine hasn’t created unsafe air quality conditions, anecdotal reports from locals and statements from outside researchers both leave room for doubt. Several residents have reported suffering from rashes and headaches, both of which can result from exposure to vinyl chloride.
Experts from the Yale School of Medicine have also criticized the EPA’s methodology, calling it insufficiently targeted. Because the agency’s monitoring focuses on classes of chemicals rather than targeting individual toxins, it’s possible that the air quality monitoring being done in the area is missing unusually high levels of specific compounds. This raises the possibility of East Palestine residents being exposed to airborne toxins, even though the EPA’s data suggests the air is safe.
Should Residents of the East Palestine Area Use Air Purifiers?
Due to the uncertain nature of the situation and the questions surrounding whether toxins are or aren’t accumulating in the area around East Palestine, it’s not possible to say that air purifiers will be beneficial to those in the affected areas. Those who wish to buy air purifiers for an added measure of protection, however, should consider investing in units that feature both HEPA and high-quality carbon filtration. Some of the units that meet these standards include the Airpura P600+, Airpura C600DLX and AllerAir Pro 5 HD Vocarb.
Ultimately, it could be several more months or even years before a clear picture of the environmental impacts of this train derailment emerges. Targeted air quality studies conducted over long periods of time will be needed to generate more precise air pollution data.