Controlled release at Ohio derailment site prompts mandatory evacuations

‘If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death,’ Gov. Josh Shapiro said

By: - February 6, 2023 2:37 pm

Gov. Josh Shapiro gives an update on East Palestine, Ohio train derailment during a news conference on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that authorities were planning a “controlled release” of the vinyl chloride in five cars of a Norfolk Southern train that derailed Friday near East Palestine, Ohio. The release will happen at 3:30 p.m. to avoid a potentially catastrophic explosion. 

Detail of the map that Gov. Josh Shapiro showed during his news conference on Monday, 2/6/23 (Screen Capture).

Officials said the vinyl chloride in the derailed cars was unstable and could potentially explode, causing potentially deadly shrapnel and toxic fumes. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen used in making plastic resin.

Monday’s decision to conduct the controlled release came after consulting with the Department of Defense. 

“The controlled release of the toxic chemicals also has the potential to be deadly if inhaled,” DeWine said during a Monday news conference, adding that those closest to the site of the derailment faced “grave danger of death” if they remained in that area during the release. 

The evacuation order covers a one-mile by two-mile area surrounding East Palestine, which includes Darlington, Beaver County, in Pennsylvania, and covers 22 Pennsylvania residents, many of whom had already evacuated as of Sunday evening, Gov. Josh Shapiro said in a separate news conference.

Shapiro added that Pennsylvania State Police were going door-to-door within the evacuation zone on Monday and providing assistance to all of those who remained within the zone to ensure that they were evacuated.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a news conference on Monday, 2/6/23 (Screen Capture).

Norfolk Southern spokesperson Scott Deutsch said at the Ohio news conference that they expected the release to take between one and three hours. 

He added that a controlled release was preferable to an explosion, to prevent the toxic fumes from being contained near the site. “If we do it during the daytime, that’ll allow the products to just keep moving up into the atmosphere,” he said. 

Shapiro displayed a map showing the area of the derailment and the parts where evacuation was necessary. 

“Let me be very, very clear. If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death,” he said. “This is very serious. If you are within the orange area on this map, you risk permanent lung damage within a matter of hours or days. This is my strongest possible recommendation — that is joined in by every public safety expert — if you are within this evacuation zone, please evacuate immediately. I want you to know if I were there right now, if the First Lady and our children were there right now, we would evacuate. We would leave this area.”

Shapiro added that so far no air or water contamination had been observed in Pennsylvania. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly