After the Feb. 3 train derailment in eastern Palestine, Ohio, users on social media began sharing photos of an ominous black cloud hanging over the city – and feared the disaster would become the new Chernobyl.
A fire engulfed a Norfolk Southern train after 50 of its 150 carriages derailed. The train was carrying 10 cars full of hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, a colorless gas used in the manufacture of the plastic PVC that was released as a result of the derailment. In sunlight, it can be broken down into chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Other flammable chemicals such as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, and isobutylene were also present in the cars and released into the environment, according to a list compiled by the EPA.
Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic, or are known to be respiratory and eye irritants.
The toxicity of these chemicals initially raised concerns about the health and safety of local residents. Then came the Compare to another disaster that happened almost 40 years ago: the nuclear disaster in the city of Pripyat on April 26, 1986, which led to the spread of radioactive pollutants in Ukraine and throughout Europe.
Although the intense images from Ohio might lead viewers to believe the state has a mini Chernobyl on its hands, the magnitude of Chernobyl’s destruction was far worse. However, the environmental impact of the incident in eastern Palestine should not be ignored, experts say.
Chemicals released during both disasters were carcinogenic, but Chernobyl was radioactive
The Chernobyl incident happened after a number of safety precautions were ignored during a nuclear reactor test, resulting in a huge explosion and fire that released large amounts of radioactive chemicals such as plutonium, iodine, strontium and cesium.
Although carcinogenic chemicals were found on the train in eastern Palestine and there were several small explosions after the derailment, many were burned in a controlled manner – resulting in a large black cloud over the city. The chemicals in the East Palestine incident are also not as potent as the nuclear waste in Chernobyl.
No one died as a result of the chemical disaster in East Palestine
Immediately after the Chernobyl explosion, two people died. A month later, almost 30 rescue workers died from acute radiation sickness and one from cardiac arrest. After the accident, it is estimated that thousands died from cancer and blood diseases caused by exposure to chemicals from Chernobyl’s power plant – although these figures are still disputed.
No deaths have been reported in eastern Palestine as a result of the derailment or the ensuing fires and explosions, although residents say they are suffering from respiratory problems, sore throats, irritated eyes, headaches and other ailments.
Several class action lawsuits were filed against the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company following the derailment, with local residents stating that the company should be responsible for the health effects on local residents and the environment.
There are reports of significant numbers of animal deaths
After the controlled burning of chemicals to prevent a deadly blast, residents said foxes, chickens and other domesticated animals have died. About 3,500 dead fish were also counted in four nearby waterways, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.
At Chernobyl, the impact on wildlife has not yet been fully determined. The blast had an immediate health impact on animal populations, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and many plants and animals mutated as a result of radioactive exposure.
East Palestine prompted an evacuation, but it was short-lived
After the derailment, nearly 2,000 residents of eastern Palestine were ordered to evacuate.
Prior to the controlled burn in the city of Ohio, the evacuation area was expanded to a 2-mile radius zone established on February 6.
On Feb. 8, officials announced residents could return to their homes after the EPA found it had not detected any pollutants at “levels of concern” in air and water samples. The Ohio EPA also announced that it will monitor the soil for possible chemical leaching through groundwater, WESA reported.
But Chernobyl is still considered uninhabitable
The Chernobyl blast contaminated 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine and led to the evacuation of around 350,000 people, who had to leave all their belongings behind. A 19-mile radius nuclear exclusion zone was established around the power plant, which still exists today.
During the war in Ukraine, Russian troops returned to the Chernobyl site and began digging trenches in the area. Ukraine’s state nuclear agency claimed in March that Russians had received “significant doses of radiation.” Russian soldiers later left the plant in a state of disarray, Ukrainian workers said in June.
Hundreds of mostly older people have also returned to the zone — or never left it — to spend the rest of their lives in their hometowns.
“Those who left are worse off now,” one woman said in the documentary Babushkas from Chernobyl.
“They are all dying of sadness.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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