That’s what makes the Ohio disaster so unsettling. five wagons burned vinyl chloride – some of it was deliberately made to depressurize the building – likely to form toxic compounds called dioxins. As the hot air from the fire rises, the train’s flames lifted a black plume into the air, potentially spreading toxic substances far beyond the crash site. “The point is that dioxins are effective even at very low levels, they are persistent and bioaccumulative,” Shettler says. This means that they are stored in the body and not destroyed. “You don’t want dioxins deposited in the soil around East Palestine that won’t disappear and will bioaccumulate in people who are exposed to them.”
The Environmental Protection Agency assessed the air in East Palestine be safe. Officials also said the water was safe to drink. But, according to Gerald Markowitz, an occupational and environmental health historian at the City University of New York, there’s still a lot of unknowns about these individual chemicals and how they mix and burn. “There is a real concern that there is no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen,” says Markowitz.
Given its toxicity, what was the vinyl chloride doing on the train? PVC is one of the most common types of plastic, primarily used in pipe manufacturing, but also in packaging and consumer products such as shower curtains. According to Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, there are about 5,000 plastics-producing businesses in the US alone. And they all need ingredients. “It’s not just about trains, it’s about trucks that carry goods,” Enk says.
And it’s not just vinyl chloride. Manufacturers have to add a host of other chemicals to give the plastic its plastic properties—substances that make the polymer more heat-resistant or more flexible, for example. Many of them known chemicals that disrupt the endocrine systemor EDCs that cause our hormones to go haywire. This is why bisphenol A, also known as BPA, was isolated after scientists linked it to cancer, behavioral disorders and diabetes.
But this is a game of hitting the mole. When one chemical turns out to be dangerous, manufacturers replace it with another that may be just as, if not more, toxic. “There has been no research done to see if they are safe or less dangerous, but still a concern,” says Markowitz. It will likely be years before we learn about the potential side effects of chemical substitutes, he adds.
And BPA was just one of 2,400 other chemicals in plastics that scientists consider dangerous. A 2021 study found that exposure to plastic chemicals called phthalates could be responsible for 100,000 premature deaths in the US each year — and that was a conservative estimate.
The main problem is that what goes into the plastic does not stay in it. When a bag or bottle is torn open, the chemicals that make up the package are released. leaches. Heat and freezing also turn any plastic into microplastics, which has ruined every corner of the environment as well as our own bodies. They have been found in human lung tissue, intestines, blood, and even the first feces of newborns. However, we know little about the health effects of microplastics, although early research suggests that microplastics are highly toxic to human cells. in laboratory experiments. The fire in East Palestine is a particularly disturbing example of a crisis that is getting worse every day.