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Toxic train derailment in Ohio ‘highly unlikely’ to impact Ontario, federal officials say

The train derailment in Ohio that caused a major explosion and release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere is “highly unlikely” to have impacted southern Ontario, says the Canadian government.

The disaster occurred on Feb. 3 in the small town of East Palestine, about 100 km south of Lake Erie. The train was carrying vinyl chloride when it derailed and blew up. A few days later, crews did a controlled burn of toxic chemicals to avoid a larger, more dangerous explosion.

The town of 5,000 people had to evacuate or risk breathing in the plume’s toxic phosgene, which causes vomiting and respiratory problems.

Residents have returned but some remain sceptical of reassurances from officials that the air and water are safe. A nearby creek continues to reek of chemicals and only one federal official has visited the site, reported the Associated Press Friday. 

The Biden administration has defended its response, saying it has “mobilized a robust, multi-agency effort to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio.”

The burnt remnants of freight cars piled up along either side of a railway track.
This photo taken with a drone shows the cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Environment and Climate Change Canada said typically chemicals involved in controlled releases are in the atmosphere less than 24 hours.

And with winds blowing in the opposite direction of southern Ontario and the Great Lakes, “it would have been highly unlikely that the region would have seen any effect,” said spokesperson Angela Savard.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), which oversees conservation areas in the Niagara Region including along the Lake Erie shoreline, and the advocacy group Environmental Defence both said they’re looking to Canadian officials for guidance.

“We have been monitoring the situation and are not aware of any evidence that this poses a threat to the Great Lakes basin or Ontario,” said Environmental Defence spokesperson Brittany Harris. 

The group pushes for stronger protections for Lake Erie and for governments and industry to address the issue of agricultural runoff.

NPCA spokesperson Misti Ferrusi said the organization would “proactively address” any issues that arise and, if they do, communicate these with residents.

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