Study: Mobile and Stationary Air Monitoring Needed Post Derailment

Image of a train car on a rail

When chemical-laden freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio this past February, hazmat and environmental officials set off a controlled release and burn to avoid the cars’ contents setting off a catastrophic explosion.

Researchers monitored air and water quality during and following that operation. In addition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitoring, other air-monitoring technology was deployed.

One set of findings, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, found potentially hazardous gas levels.

Also Read: Hazmat Resources for Train Derailments

Once the evacuation order was lifted and residents returned home, some reported symptoms consistent with exposure to hazardous compounds.

Albert Presto and colleagues wanted to monitor air quality and identify the potential health risks in and around East Palestine, Science Daily reported. They downloaded air-quality monitoring data from two EPA stations at fixed locations. And to map patterns of airborne compounds, they drove a cargo van around the area for two days in late February.

Inside the van was a mass spectrometer, which was used to identify a wide array of gases, upwind and downwind of the accident site. Then the team calculated the health risks for the gases that were above average or background levels.

Also Read: Prolonged Hazmat Operations at Ohio Train Derailment

From the EPA data, the team determined that the levels of nine of the 50 gases initially rose above their normal baselines, especially acrolein, a respiratory irritant. If these nine compounds remained at those levels, the ambient air could pose health risks, say the researchers. Yet, through February, the amounts of many pollutants decreased significantly. In fact, vinyl chloride declined to concentrations below long-term limits of health concern.

Mobile monitoring detected changes over time and space that the stations could not. For instance, during the day, acrolein and butyl acrylate were up to six times higher near the accident site than background levels, but at night they dropped to the background amount. These results indicate the importance of complementary stationary and mobile air-quality assessment techniques, the researchers say, and both should continue as cleanup activities proceed.

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