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US residents file lawsuits after release of toxic chemicals from train wreak in Ohio

A train carrying tons of hazardous chemicals derailed and crashed in eastern Ohio on February 3, causing a massive plume of toxic smoke. (Photo via Twitter)

Angry and exasperated, residents in a small town in eastern Ohio, approximately 400 kilometers from the Canada-US border, have sued the train company that spilled toxic chemicals even as authorities look to cover up the catastrophic event. 

In at least four lawsuits in state and federal courts, the train company has been accused of negligent behavior through poor handling of hazardous materials like vinyl chloride, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk. 

According to American media, including the New York Times, Ohio and federal regulators are still assessing environmental and health damage from it.

Earlier this month, a small town of East Palestine, just south of Lake Erie in Ohio, saw a nightmarish scenario unfolding when a train crashed and exploded, spewing toxic chemicals into the environment.

To control the explosions, the officials released the contents of five tankers full of vinyl chloride, a colorless gas associated with forms of liver and lung cancer.

The fire creates a massive plume of phosgene gas and hydrogen chloride in a massive mushroom black cloud. Phosgene gas is a highly toxic colorless gas that can cause breathing troubles and was used as a weapon in World War I.

According to the New York Times, close to 2,000 residents from Ohio within a 2-mile radius of the incident were ordered to evacuate, after which officials carried out a "controlled release" and burning of the chemicals to avert a large explosion.

Residents fear for their health even as concerns rise about its effect on the environment and the local transportation network.

Norfolk Southern Railroad Company, the operator of the train, is being blamed for helping lobby against railroad safety regulations that could have minimized the damage. Since February 8, a series of class action lawsuits have been filed against the company.

"Because the Vinyl Chloride that was released following the derailment and the resulting fire is a known carcinogen that has been linked to an increased likelihood of contracting liver and other cancers," the train company should provide residents with "medical monitoring whereby they will be regularly followed, assessed and monitored by health care providers," said the attorneys for residents in a class action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Ohio. 

Another lawsuit, filed in the Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, cited the environmental impact of the catastrophe on fish and wildlife in the area and claimed that the train company was negligent and delayed in notifying residents about the spill of chemicals. 

According to local news station WEWS, the Ohio Department of Natural resources in an announcement on Monday said at least 3,500 fish were killed by poisoning related to the accident, with the contamination reaching streams up to 7.5 miles away.

Pennsylvania’s KDKA-TV claimed that the amount of smoke being pushed into the atmosphere is such that it was visible on the news channel’s weather radar, as it drifted into Beaver County, Meteorologist Ray Petelin wrote on Twitter.

Stew Peters, a TV producer, called the train derailment "the most catastrophic event covered up in recent history, " in a post on Twitter.

Another Twitter user said the toxic waste from the derailment "has already leaked into the Ohio River which provides water to 5 million people", slamming the "near complete radio silence from the government" and saying a journalist was arrested for covering the accident. 

Congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, in a tweet said East Palestine was "undergoing an ecological disaster", blaming authorities for blowing up the train derailment cars carrying hazardous chemicals and adding that the journalists were being arrested "for trying to tell the story".

A hazardous materials expert warned a cluster of cancer diagnoses will be seen five to twenty years back the line in a one-mile radius around the crash site following the controlled burn.

Some residents were quoted as saying that they have already begun to experience headaches and sickness since the disastrous derailment.

In a report on Monday, CNN said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was working "on an assessment for a remediation plan".

“Initially, with most environmental spills, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of material that has been released into the air, water, and soil,” James Lee, media relations manager for the E.P.A. in Ohio, was quoted as saying.

“The assessment phase that will occur after the emergency is over will help to determine that information.”

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