NATIONAL NEWS

EPA begins formal review of vinyl chloride, toxic chemical that burned in Ohio train derailment

Dec 14, 2023, 10:52 AM

FILE - A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a p...

FILE - A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, Feb. 6, 2023. The Biden administration is initiating a formal evaluation of risks posed by vinyl chloride, the cancer-causing chemical that burned in a towering plume of toxic black smoke following a fiery train derailment earlier this year in eastern Ohio. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has initiated a formal evaluation of risks posed by vinyl chloride, the cancer-causing chemical that burned in a towering plume of toxic black smoke following a fiery train derailment earlier this year in eastern Ohio.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it will review risks posed by a handful of chemicals, including vinyl chloride, which is used to make a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wire and packaging materials. The chemical is found in polyvinyl chloride plastic, better known as PVC.

The EPA said it will study vinyl chloride to determine whether it poses an “unreasonable risk to human health or the environment,″ a process that would take at least three years.

Vinyl chloride is one of five chemicals the agency is reviewing, including four that are used to make plastics. Other chemicals set for review under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act include acetaldehyde, acrylonitrile, benzenamine, and a compound known as MBOCA.

“Under the Biden-Harris administration, EPA has made significant progress … to strengthen our nation’s chemical safety laws after years of mismanagement and delay. Today marks an important step forward,” said Michal Freedhoff, assistant EPA administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.

Studying the safety of vinyl chloride and other chemicals that have been in use for decades “is key to better-protecting people from toxic exposure,” Freedhoff said in a statement.

Environmental and public health activists welcomed the announcement, calling the review long overdue.

“Vinyl chloride was classified as a human carcinogen in 1974. That same year, the federal government wisely banned the use of vinyl chloride in hair sprays, refrigerants, cosmetics and drugs,” said Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator and president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics.

Enck and other advocates had called the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a warning that the U.S. must ban petrochemicals such as vinyl chloride.

Jess Conard, an East Palestine resident who now works as a regional director for Beyond Plastics, said EPA was making the right decision.

“Vinyl chloride is transported by rail all over the country and is the primary chemical that has contaminated not just my home in East Palestine, Ohio, but other communities where PVC and vinyl chloride manufacturing facilities exist,” Conard said in a statement.

“If you live along the rail line, you are at risk for the same fate (as East Palestine) with every passing train that is transporting toxic chemicals,” she said. Conard faulted what she called “an insatiable demand” by Americans for plastic products that has “driven the need for increased transport of these hazardous substances, placing communities like mine at risk every single day.″

Vinyl chloride is found in plastic PVC pipes, as well as vinyl siding, packaging and a range of consumer goods, including furniture, car parts, shower curtains and toys used by children and pets.

Inhalation of vinyl chloride has been linked to liver cancer and other health problems, according to the National Cancer Institute, and its use has long been banned in cosmetics, hair spray and other personal products. PVC plastic is not a known or suspected carcinogen, the agency said.

The Vinyl Institute, a trade group that represents manufacturers, said it was prepared to work with EPA on the risk analysis.

The institute “has indicated our strong interest to be engaged in the process early, and to serve as a collaborative resource for the agency,” said Ned Monroe, the Vinyl Institute’s president and CEO.

“This is an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding about the regulation of vinyl chloride manufacturing and the safety of PVC products,” Monroe said. “We believe this risk evaluation will further assure that the production of vinyl chloride and use of PVC products are safe. Manufacturers of vinyl chloride adhere to some of the most stringent safety and environmental regulations in the chemical industry.”

Vinyl chloride monomer is an intermediary chemical found in PVC products that are used every day, Monroe said, including PVC pipes used for drinking water, vinyl windows and siding, and medical products such as IV blood bags.

Debate over vinyl chloride has simmered for years but gained a new urgency after the Feb. 3 derailment of a 50-car Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine. Three days later, emergency crews released toxic vinyl chloride from five tank cars and burned it to keep them from exploding.

That sent a billowing plume of black smoke over the town near the Pennsylvania border and prompted the evacuation of about half of its 5,000 residents. Nearly a year later, residents remain concerned about lingering impacts on health, even though state and federal officials say tests show the town’s air and water are safe.

The Feb. 6 burn sparked worries that it could have formed dioxins, a known carcinogen created from burning chlorinated carbon materials.

Since an evacuation order was lifted near the derailment site, vinyl chloride has not been found in the community at or above an intermediate screening level, the EPA said. The agency ordered testing for the highly toxic compounds after the derailment; results so far suggest there’s a low chance that dioxins were released following the derailment, the EPA said.

Daniel Rosenberg, director of federal toxics policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said vinyl chloride is highly toxic, “from manufacture to use and disposal — not to mention transport, as the community of East Palestine, Ohio, knows all too well. EPA should factor in all possible sources of exposure to vinyl chloride when assessing its risk.”

National News

Associated Press

Three little piggies at a yoga class = maximum happiness

SPENCER, Mass. (AP) — Three little piggies went to a yoga class. Their human companions had a blast. Wilbur, Charlotte and Bluey fit right into a growing trend of yoga with animals, adding some fun to the usual physical and mental wellness exercises at a class in central Massachusetts. Darting and strolling among the yoginis […]

6 minutes ago

Associated Press

Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

You didn’t think summer travel would be easy, did you? Highways and airports are likely to be jammed the next few days as Americans head out for Memorial Day weekend getaways and then return home. AAA predicts this will be the busiest start-of-summer weekend in nearly 20 years, with 43.8 million people expected to travel […]

13 minutes ago

Associated Press

5 dead and nearly 3 dozen hurt in tornadoes that tore through Iowa, officials say

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — A deadly tornado that wreaked havoc in the small city of Greenfield, Iowa, left four people dead and nearly three dozen injured, officials said, while a fifth person was killed elsewhere. The twister that tore through the city on Tuesday was rated at least an EF-3 by the National Weather Service […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Thousands of journalists have fled homelands due to repression, threats and conflict, UN expert says

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Thousands of journalists have fled their home countries in recent years to escape political repression, save their lives and escape conflict – but in exile they are often vulnerable to physical, digital and legal threats, a U.N. investigator said Wednesday. Irene Khan said in a report to the U.N. General Assembly […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk. Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Missouri prosecutors to seek death penalty in killing of court employee and police officer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri prosecutors said Wednesday that they intend to seek the death penalty against a Kansas City-area man who is charged with murder in the killings of a court employee who tried to serve an eviction notice on him and a police officer who responded. Larry Acree, 70, of Independence, is […]

7 hours ago

EPA begins formal review of vinyl chloride, toxic chemical that burned in Ohio train derailment