Norfolk Southern Train Derailment Contamination & Exposure Lawsuit

Were You or a Loved One Potentially Exposed to Chemicals After The Norfolk Southern Train Derailed in Ohio?

On February 3, 2023, at about 8:54 p.m. local time, a Norfolk Southern Railway train carrying products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania went off the track in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. About 38 cars derailed and a fire ensued that damaged an additional 12 cars. Ten of those were carrying hazardous materials including butyl acrylate and vinyl chloride—both of which are combustible and dangerous.

If you or a loved one have potentially been exposed to toxic chemicals due to the train derailment, please contact us for a free consultation.

To avoid a major explosion, authorities decided to address the chemical issue. Residents were asked to evacuate the area or shelter-in-place, depending on how close they were to the site of the accident.

On Monday, February 6, 2023, crews conducted what officials called a “controlled release” of the hazardous chemicals. This included a controlled vent and burn. The process created a large ball of fire and a plume of black smoke.

Though officials say that the controlled release went off as planned, residents are concerned about exposure to these dangerous toxins and their potential health effects. Vinyl chloride, for instance, has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. Some citizens have already filed lawsuits against Norfolk Southern Railway. 

The Ohio train derailment lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are currently examining cases in which residents were exposed to toxic chemicals from the accident and may now be at risk for serious illnesses. Call our experienced attorneys to schedule a complimentary consultation at 1-888-480-1123.

What Happened with the Ohio Train Derailment?

The Norfolk Southern train was carrying about 150 cars. It was traveling eastbound when several of those cars went off the track in East Palestine—a town of about 5,000 people that is 15 minutes south of Youngstown, Ohio, and about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Twenty of those cars were carrying hazardous materials. Eleven of those 20 derailed. Of those ten, five were carrying vinyl chloride. The derailment resulted in a massive fire that spanned the length of the derailed cars. Fortunately, there were no reported fatalities or injuries.

Authorities were concerned that the cars carrying hazardous chemicals were exposed to fire. They knew that at least one of them was intermittently releasing its contents through a pressure-release device as designed.

Because of concerns over a potential explosion that could send shrapnel traveling up to a mile, Governor Mike DeWine ordered an evacuation on Sunday, February 5th, 2023 with a two-mile area of the site. This affected about 1,500-2,000 residents.

Potential Injuries Related to the Norfolk Southern Train Derailment:

Exposure to chemicals released by the Norfolk Southern Train Derailment may increase the risk of the following injuries:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Skin redness and irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Respiratory distress
  • In the long term: cancer

Authorities Conduct a Controlled Release of the Chemicals

On Monday, February 6th, crews conducted a controlled release of toxic chemicals to reduce the threat of a potentially deadly explosion. Norfolk Southern Railroad oversaw the release, and stated that it involved “the burning of the rail cars’ chemicals.”

As part of this process, crews conducted a slow release of vinyl chloride from five rail cars into a trough that was then ignited, creating a “large plume above the village of East Palestine…” according to AP News. Officials warned that the controlled burn would send phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air. (More on these chemicals below.)

In his evacuation order, Governor DeWine noted, “Based on current weather patterns and the expected flow of the smoke and fumes, anyone who remains in the red affected area is facing grave danger of death. Anyone who remains in the yellow impacted area is at a high risk of severe injury, including skin burns and serious lung damage.”

The process took several hours. Authorities said they were closely monitoring air quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quickly responded to the initial incident, sending on-scene coordinators to the site to conduct air monitoring and provide technical assistance to local responding agencies. They are also involved in sampling and mitigating impacts from runoff from the fire to the Sulphur Run and Leslie Run streams.

Because air quality samples consistently showed readings below screening levels for contaminants of concern, residents were told they could return home on Wednesday, February 8th.

What Caused the Ohio Train Derailment?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating to determine the probable cause of the accident and issue any safety recommendations, if necessary. At the time of this writing, investigators had identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment.

Surveillance video from a residence showed “what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” according to the NTSB. Investigators plan to further examine this wheel bearing.

CNN also reported that there was a mechanical failure warning before the crash. The crew received an alarm and the emergency brake application initiated.

What Were the Hazardous Chemicals?

Norfolk Southern provided the EPA with a list of hazardous chemicals carried on the tanker cars. The company noted that some of the cars were breached in the incident and either all or some of the chemicals were released during the crash. They may have then contaminated the air, soil, and water nearby.

Additional chemicals were released during the controlled release efforts.

The main chemicals of concern include the following.

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride is a chemical used to make polyvinyl chloride, which is a hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products like pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging materials. The EPA classifies the chemical as a human carcinogen, stating, “Cancer is a major concern from exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation, as vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans.”

Short-term exposure to high concentrations may also cause drowsiness, loss of coordination, nausea, and headaches. According to the National Cancer Institute, people may be exposed via inhalation. If a water supply is contaminated, vinyl chloride can enter household air when the water is used for showering, cooking, or laundry.

Vinyl chloride breaks down in a few days, resulting in the formation of several other chemicals including hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and carbon dioxide.


Phosgene is released by burning vinyl chloride. It’s a major industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides, and a highly toxic gas that was used in World War I as a choking agent. Exposure can cause eye irritation, dry burning throat, and vomiting.

Hydrogen Chloride

Hydrogen chloride (HCl) was also released during the controlled release and burn of the hazardous chemicals. It is a colorless to slightly yellow gas that can irritate the skin, nose, eyes, throat, and larynx.

Butyl Acrylate

Butyl acrylate is a clear, colorless liquid with a fruity, strong odor. It is used in the manufacture of polymers and resins, and in paint formulations. It can cause eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation.

Ethylhexyl Acrylate

Ethyl acrylate is used in the manufacture of water-based latex paints and adhesives, textile and paper coatings, leather finish resins, and in the production of acrylic fibers. Short-term exposure can cause drowsiness, lethargy, headache, nausea, and respiratory and gastrointestinal irritation. Chronic exposure has been linked to noncancerous lesions and inflammation of the nasal passages in animal studies.


Isobutylene is a colorless gas, or a liquid under pressure, with a sweet, gasoline odor. It is used in the production of aviation gasoline, resins, and other chemicals, and antioxidants for food, packaging, and plastics. Exposure can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue.

Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether (EGBE)

EGBE is a colorless liquid with a mild odor. It is used as a solvent for resins, lacquers, varnishes, and enamels, and is found in many hard surface cleaning products. Contact can irritate the skin and eyes with possible eye damage. Inhalation can irritate the nose and throat and cause coughing and wheezing. Exposure may also cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, lightheadedness, and passing out.

Long-term exposure (months to years) has been linked to liver cancer in animals.

EPA Tests Air and Water for Potential Chemical Contamination

According to the EPA and local residents, the effects of the release of hazardous chemicals are already being felt.

On February 8, 2023, the EPA stated it found spilled materials in the nearby stream Sulphur Run. Oily product was found leaking from a tank car and pooling onto the soil. Teams were dispatched to remove the product with a vacuum truck. Air monitoring instruments also detected increased concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) downwind of the derailment fire that night, but they remained below the screening level.

EPA responding crews also discovered contaminated runoff on Leslie Run, another nearby stream. Under Ohio EPA oversight, Norfolk Southern emergency response contractors installed booms and underflow dams to restrict the flow of contaminated water and collect floating product. Later reports indicated the EPA found materials released during the incident in samples from Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, and the Ohio River.

The EPA also assisted with voluntary residential air screening appointments as offered by Norfolk Southern. On February 12, the EPA stated that 210 homes had been screened to date and testers found no evidence of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride. They had 218 homes left to screen at that time.

According to Norfolk Southern, at the time of this writing, more than 340 in-home air tests and outdoor air monitoring continued to show “no risk to health from incident-related substances.”

Samples of drinking water are ongoing, with water treatment plants on the alert for signs of contamination. Private well water testing is also underway. Residents in East Palestine and nearby areas are understandably concerned about the quality of the water.

Reports of Chemical-Related Effects Already Coming In

Despite the EPA’s and Norfolk Southern’s reassurances, residents are feeling the effects of the hazardous chemicals.

NBC News interviewed several individuals in the area. One stated that her five hens and rooster died suddenly on Tuesday, February 7th. She lives more than 10 miles from East Palestine. Another noted that dead fish were floating in the waterways, while others reported persistent coughing.

A nearby fox keeper who lived outside of the evacuation perimeter told the press that all of his foxes were sick following the spill and that one had died.

NPR reported that after the evacuation order was lifted, there were a “growing number of reports about people experiencing a burning sensation in their eyes, animals falling ill, and a strong odor lingering in the town.”

On February 13th, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said wildlife officers have found dead fish at Leslie Run, Bull Creek, and a portion of the North Fork of Beaver Creek. It estimated the length of the affected area as 7.5 miles. At the time of this writing, the department estimated the spill killed 3,500 fish, including small suckers, minnows, darters, and sculpins.

Norfolk Southern Attempts to Address the Problem

Norfolk Southern stated in a February 13, 2023 press release that it was providing direct support to residents of East Palestine through a family assistance center, as well as by providing equipment for first responders and continuing environmental testing and monitoring.

The company has distributed more than $1 million directly to families to help cover costs related to the evacuation, including reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items. The company also provided more than 100 air purifiers for residents to use in their homes, and was “in the process of contacting and meeting with affected local businesses to provide aid.”

Residents wanting air and water testing were directed to contact the Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline at (330) 849-3919.

Norfolk Southern Trail Derailment Lawsuit Claims

On February 10, 2023, the EPA issued a general notice of potential liability letter to Norfolk Southern to “document the release or threat of release of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants to the environment following the train derailment.” The letter outlined the agency’s cleanup actions and the potential to hold the railroad accountable for the associated costs.

Some plaintiffs have already filed lawsuits against the rail company. On February 10, 2023, the Associated Press reported that two Pennsylvania residents had filed a case calling for the rail operator to pay for medical screenings and related care for anyone living within a 30-mile radius of the site. It is expected that more such lawsuits will follow.

Residents who were exposed to toxic chemicals from the Norfolk Southern rail derailment may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit. Call our experienced attorneys to schedule a complimentary consultation at 1-888-480-1123.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did the Norfolk Southern Rail Derailment Release Toxic Chemicals?

According to the EPA, there were toxic chemicals released from the Norfolk Southern rail derailment. Some leaked into the ground and nearby waterways after the initial accident because the cars were damaged. Others were released during the controlled burn that followed to reduce the risk of an explosion.

Could I Be Harmed If I Live Nearby?

Tests of the air and water quality are ongoing. As of this writing, air quality monitoring has found that contamination remains under current screening limits. There has been evidence of water contamination, however, which the EPA and Norfolk Southern are working to address. If you believe you may have been harmed by these chemicals, call our experienced attorneys at 1-888-480-1123.