EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — Authorities in Ohio say they plan to release toxic chemicals from five cars of a derailed train in Ohio to reduce the threat of an explosion.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says a “controlled release” of vinyl chloride will take place on Monday at 3:30 p.m.
Residents near the site have been ordered to evacuate. DeWine said residents who were ordered to evacuate need to leave the area because of the risk of death or serious injury. Officials believe most if not all have already have left.
Authorities are going through neighborhoods to make sure people are out. Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern Railway estimates the release will last between one and three hours.
The site is very close to the state line, and the evacuation area extends into Pennsylvania.
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash Friday night, according to rail operator Norfolk Southern and the National Transportation Safety Board. No injuries to crew, residents or first responders were reported.
Norfolk Southern said 20 of the more than 100 cars on the train were classified as carrying hazardous materials — defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks.”
The cars involved carried combustible liquids, butyl acrylate and residue of benzene from previous shipments, officials said.
Five were transporting vinyl chloride, which is used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin in plastic products and is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute.
A statement from DeWine’s office warned on Sunday night of “the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure” after a “drastic temperature change” was observed in a rail car.
Police cars, snow plows and military vehicles from the Ohio National Guard blocked streets leading into the village Monday morning as authorities began enforcing what had previously been a strongly recommended evacuation zone within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of the crash site.
Schools and many businesses were closed, and the local high school was turned into a shelter.
Norfolk Southern has opened an assistance center in the village to gather information from affected residents. But some residents complained about a lack of information regarding the evacuation, which covered the homes of about half the town’s 4,800 residents.
Emergency responders were monitoring but keeping their distance from the fire. Remediation efforts could not begin while the cars smoldered, authorities said.
Federal investigators say the cause of the derailment was a mechanical issue with a rail car axle.
The three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect “shortly before the derailment," Michael Graham, a board member of the NTSB, said Sunday. Investigators identified the exact “point of derailment,” but the board was still working to determine which rail car experienced the axle issue, he said.
Mayor Trent Conaway, who declared a state of emergency in the village, said one person was arrested for going around barricades right up to the crash. He warned people to stay away and said they'd risk arrest.
“I don't know why anybody would want to be up there; you're breathing toxic fumes if you're that close,” he said, stressing that monitors of air quality away from the fire showed no levels of concern and that the town's water is safe.
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