On March 2, a mobile testing laboratory set up on the site by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Texas A&M reported finding high levels of the chemical acrolein during air sampling of the area.
Acrolein is used to make acrylic acid, as well as to kill plant growth, algae and microorganisms in irrigation canals, oil wells, cooling towers, and wastewater treatment ponds. However, exposure has been linked to dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, nausea, fainting, and coughing and shortness of death. In high concentrations it can result in unconsciousness and death.
The chemical is also often found in smoke and can be released by burning oil or other chemicals.
According to a posting on Twitter from the Texas A&M Superfund Research Center, levels of benzene, toluene xylenes and vinyl chloride were sampled at values below minimal risk levels for intermediate exposure of 15 days to one year, which matched with previous testing done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While levels of acrolein were still below minimal risk level, the researchers warned that it varied from five times lower to three times higher than levels detected in other places, such as downtown Pittsburgh, which is the location they used as a comparison.
EPA’s own sampling data has also found elevated levels of acrolein in the area, which were above the levels of concern, and the agency is deploying its own mobile testing equipment to continue monitoring for it and other chemicals, officials said.
Norfolk Southern Toxic Train Derailment Investigations
In addition to an ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is looking into reports of a potential brake problem that may have contributed to the accident, as well as the train’s massive size, other agencies are also looking into the causes of the accident and Norfolk Southern’s business practices and response.
Late last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a response team from its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is now interviewing residents about their health concerns and symptoms they have developed since the accident.
In addition, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation joined a growing number of voices calling for an examination of the railroad industry’s safety practices when transporting hazardous materials. In a letter sent to the CEOs of the seven largest railroad companies in the U.S., she requested they turn over all detailed information and documents on those practices by March 17.
On February 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a notice to Norfolk Southern, announcing it was considering to make the company pay for the cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Since then, EPA officials have said in live interviews that they will definitely require Norfolk Southern to pay for those costs.