On February 6, 2023, a train carrying acrolein and other chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, due to overheated bearings. The derailment caused the release of acrolein into the air, posing significant risks to those exposed to surrounding area. Acrolein is a highly toxic and flammable liquid commonly used in the production of plastics, synthetic rubber, and industrial chemicals. Acrolein is generally a clear liquid with a pungent, overpowering odor. Acrolein is highly flammable and may polymerize violently.

Acrolein is a Highly Toxic Chemical Irritant

Inhalation is one of the primary routes of exposure for acrolein. The release of the chemical into the air can lead to severe health problems for those in its vicinity. Anyone can inhale acrolein released into the air. Even low levels of exposure to the chemical can cause respiratory irritation, resulting in coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure to even low levels of acrolein can cause more severe respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma. Acute high dose exposure can lead to a build up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and may lead to death. Permanent lung damage can result from short term high dose exposure as well as chronic low dose exposure.

Children More Susceptible to Acrolein Exposure

Acrolein is also a potent irritant that can cause burns or damage to the skin and eyes. Furthermore, if the chemical enters the bloodstream, it can cause systemic toxicity, leading to organ damage or even death. Children exposed to acrolein vapor may receive a larger dose because their ratio of lung surface area to body weight is greater. Additionally, Acrolein vapor is typically found in higher levels near the ground due to its density. This results in children often receiving a larger dose in the same location.

Inhalation Exposure Can Reach Well Beyond the Site of an Accident

In East Palestine, local and state officials evacuated the immediate area around the derailment site and emergency responders worked to contain the spill. However, the risks of acrolein exposure through inhalation pathway exist beyond the immediate vicinity of the derailment site. Moreover, Acrolein can persist in the environment for an extended period, particularly in areas with poor ventilation or high humidity. Consequently, individuals living or working near the derailment site may continue to face acrolein exposure risks for several weeks or even months after the derailment. To minimize acrolein exposure risks through inhalation, it is crucial to take precautions.

Local Officials Recommended Shelter in Place

Local and state officials issued a shelter in place order following the derailment of the Norfolk Southern train. The shelter in place order advised those living near the derailment site, to remain inside with windows and doors closed. Local authorities also recommended the use of ventilation systems (A/C or fans) to circulate air inside the home or workplace. Authorities told people in the area to avoid outdoor activities, particularly exercise, until local authorities give the all-clear.

If you think you have been exposed, seek medical attention

If anyone experiences symptoms of acrolein exposure, such as respiratory irritation, eye irritation, or skin irritation, medical attention should be immediately sought. Even if symptoms are not immediately apparent, individuals may still face long-term health effects from acrolein exposure. The East Palestine train derailment caused significant risks of acrolein exposure through inhalation. Those living near the site need to take precautions and should be vigilant about signs of damage from acrolein exposure.

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