Animals are falling sick and dying near the site of a hellish Ohio train derailment last Friday which released toxic chemicals into the air, according to reports — sparking fears of the potential health impacts the crash could have on humans.
Taylor Holzer, owner of a dairy farm just outside the evacuation zone in East Palestine, told WKBN several foxes he keeps on his property have become mortally ill.
“Out of nowhere, he just started coughing really hard, just shut down, and he had liquid diarrhea and just went very fast,” Holzer told the outlet of one of his animals.
He said others have developed watery eyes and puffy faces, and have uncharacteristically refused to eat for several days.
“Smoke and chemicals from the train, that’s the only thing that can cause it, because it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere,” Holzer said. “The chemicals that we’re being told are safe in the air, that’s definitely not safe for the animals … or people.”
A cocktail of deadly chemicals — including highly toxic vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride — spilled out after 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern Railroad train derailed en route to Pennsylvania.
Inhaling vinyl chloride fumes can induce dizziness, nausea, headache, and breathing complications, University of Toledo environmental engineering professor Ashok Kumar told ABC News.
Professor Kevin Crist, the director of Ohio University’s Air Quality Center, noted that the chemical can also cause cancer of the liver and other organs.
“Breathe those in under heavy concentrations, and it’s really bad for you,” Crist told the network. “It’s like an acid mist. It’s not something that you want to be around in high concentrations.”
Officials conducted a controlled burn in the area to avoid a “catastrophic tanker failure” that could have set off a gigantic explosion.
Evironmental Protection Agency official James Justice said the agency has been conducting constant air-monitoring tests that did not show any toxic threats, and residents were told it was safe to return to their homes after a three-day mandatory evacuation this week.
But scattered reports of dead animals well outside the original evacuation zone continue to stoke fears.
“My video camera footage shows my chickens were perfectly fine before they started this burn, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died,” said Amanda Breshears of North Lima. “If it can do this to chickens in one night, imagine what it’s going to do to us in 20 years.”
A previous spillage of vinyl chloride after a train derailment occured in Paulsboro, New Jersey, in 2012. That state’s Department of Health compiled a fact sheet on the potential effects of exposure to humans that year which said stated: “It is not known whether short-term exposure to vinyl chloride can cause long-term health effects.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has a more recent information sheet on vinyl chloride which said: “Human and animal studies show higher rates of liver, lung and several other types of cancer.
“Being exposed to vinyl chloride can affect a person’s liver, kidney, lung, spleen, nervous system and blood. People exposed to [extremely high] levels … may have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Damage to male sperm-producing organs has occurred in laboratory animals.”