Chemical spilled in East Palestine involved in 966 accidents since 2010: Report

Accidents involving the toxic chemical spilled in East Palestine, Ohio, last year have occurred more than once per week since 2010, according to a report published Tuesday by Earthjustice and the nonprofit Beyond Plastics.

Vinyl chloride is a hazardous substance widely used in the production of plastics. Researchers with the firm Material Research L3C determined that manufacturing of the chemical in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 18.6 billion pounds in 2021, more than three times that of 1974. Since 2010, at least 966 chemical incidents involving the substance have occurred, an average of one every 5.3 days.

Meanwhile, there have been 29 occasions since 1968 in which rail cars carrying the chemical were derailed. A January report from the organization Toxic-Free Future found that trains are conveying up to 36 million pounds of vinyl chloride across a 2,000-mile stretch of railroad at any given moment.

Beyond Plastics and Earthjustice submitted the report as part of public comments on the Environmental Protection’s Agency (EPA) review of vinyl chloride under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the first step in a process that could eventually lead to an outright ban. The EPA is set to make a final decision on the designation this December.

“Vinyl chloride was designated a human carcinogen 50 years ago, and even though substitute materials exist, it’s still being used in products we touch every day,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former EPA regional administrator, said in a statement. “We’ve waited long enough for federal action protecting our families, homes, and communities from vinyl chloride; it’s time for the EPA administrator Michael Regan to start the process of banning this highly toxic chemical.”

The February 2023 East Palestine derailment, involving a train operated by the Norfolk Southern railroad, made national headlines and, although no one was injured, amplified fears about railway safety and environmental hazards. The EPA has invoked a federal law requiring Norfolk Southern to cover cleanup costs associated with the spill.

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