Connect with us


Explainer: What to Know About the Ohio Train Derailment



This infographic explains the Ohio train derailment and potential impacts of the chemicals involved

Explainer: What to Know About the Ohio Train Derailment

What started out as a seemingly commonplace train derailment near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania in early February escalated into a serious threat to more than 4,000 people in the immediate area. Millions of people living in the vicinity of the derailment are also watching this situation closely as chemicals have made their way into the air and waterways.

Vinyl chloride, which was being transported on a number of the 150 train cars owned by Norfolk Southern, is a key cause for concern in the aftermath of the derailment. The chemical is a known carcinogen, and is dangerous when released into the environment.

In this piece, we’re providing a timeline, an explainer on the chemicals being carried by the train, the impact zone of the derailment and release of said chemicals, and the other basics you need to know.

What Was the Train Carrying?

The company that owns the train, Norfolk Southern, released a document detailing the train cars and what each carried, as well as whether or not it was damaged and/or derailed. Here are the highlights:

Car TypeLoad/MTYCommodityHaz ClassStatus of Car
HopperLoadedPolypropylene Not in derailment pile
HopperLoadedPolypropylene Not in derailment pile
HopperLoadedPolyethylene lading destroyed by fire
HopperLoadedPolyethylene lading destroyed by fire
Tank CarEmptyResidue lube oil scrap pending C&P
Tank CarLoadedVinyl chloride, stabilized2.1 (FLAM. GAS) car did not leak/cars vent product through the PRD and ignited/vent and burn performed
Tank CarLoadedVinyl chloride, stabilized2.1 (FLAM. GAS) car did not leak/cars vent product through the PRD and ignited/vent and burn performed
Tank CarLoadedVinyl chloride, stabilized2.1 (FLAM. GAS) car did not leak/cars vent product through the PRD and ignited/vent and burn performed
Tank CarLoadedVinyl chloride, stabilized2.1 (FLAM. GAS) vent product through the PRD and ignited/vent and burn
Tank CarLoadedDipropylene glycol fire impingement/no signs of tank breach
Tank CarLoadedPropylene glycol flame impingement, no tank breach found
Tank CarLoadedPropylene glycol tank breached/lost most of load
Tank CarLoadedDiethylene glycol had small leak from BOV, unknown amount of product in car
Tank CarLoadednos (ethylene glycol mono butyl ether) COMB. LIQUID unknown status
HopperLoadedSemolinain pile, destroyed by fire
Tank CarLoadednos (Ethylhexyl acrylate) COMB. LIQUID Car breached on head end/amount of product still in car pending
HopperLoadedPolyvinylactively burning
Tank CarLoaded Petroleum lube oil double comp car/both breached/entire load lost
Tank CarLoadedPetroleum lube oil tank breached/lost most of load
Tank CarLoadedPetroleum lube oil flame impinged, may have had a small leak/will be determined when car is off loaded
Tank CarLoadedPetroleum lube oil flame impinged, small leak from top fittings, unknown amount left in tank
Tank CarLoadedPolypropyl glycol flame impinged, tank breached/ most of load lost
Tank CarLoadedPropylene glycol flame impinged, no signs of breach
Tank CarLoadedDiethylene glycol flame impinged, tank breached/ load lost
Tank CarLoadedDiethylene glycol flame impinged, lost unknown amount at this time from damaged BOV
Tank CarLoadedIsobutylene 2.1 (FLAM. GAS) some flame impingement/no signs of breach
Tank CarLoadedButyl acrylates, stabilized 3 (FLAM. LIQUID) Head breach/lost entire load (spill& fire)
Tank CarLoadedPetro oil, necflame impinged, small leak from VRV stopped, car still loaded
Tank CarLoadedAdditives, fuelflame impinged, no sign of breach
HopperLoadedPolyvinylinvolved in fire
HopperLoadedPolyvinylinvolved in fire
Tank CarLoadedVinyl chloride, stabilized 2.1 (FLAM. GAS) car did not leak/cars vent product through the PRD and ignited/vent and burn performed
Box CarLoadedBalls, CTN, MEDCL burning or has burned
Box CarLoadedSheet steelburning or has burned
Box CarLoadedFrozen vegetableburning or has burned
Tank CarEmptyBenzene3 (FLAM. LIQUID) damaged, fire impinged/ no breach
Tank CarEmptyBenzene3 (FLAM. LIQUID) damaged, fire impinged/ no breach
Tank CarLoadedParaffin waxflame impingement/no signs of breach
Hopper LoadedPowder flakesburned, extinguished
Hopper LoadedPowder flakesin line, upright, impinged
Hopper LoadedHydraulic cement
AutorackLoadedAutos passender
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors
Box carLoadedMalt liquors

Aside from dangerous chemicals, the train was carrying things like sheet steel, semolina, cement, malt liquor, and paraffin wax.

The Threat of the Chemical Substances

  • Vinyl chloride: a gas which is commonly used to make PVC plastics. It is extremely flammable and produces toxic fumes when burned. It is also carcinogenic and can cause a myriad of health issues.
  • Butyl acrylate: a liquid used for making sealants, adhesives, and paints. It can cause skin, respiratory, and eye irritation.
  • Benzene residue: benzene is a highly flammable liquid. It is used to make things like rubbers, plastics, and dyes. It evaporates extremely quickly into the air and if exposed at high levels, it can cause dizziness, unconsciousness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, among other symptoms.
  • Ethylhexyl acrylate: a liquid used to produce plastics and paint. It can cause respiratory and skin irritation. It can also produce a hazardous vapor under appropriate heat.
  • Ethylene glycol monobutyl: a liquid that is primarily used as a solvent for inks and paints, as well as dry cleaning solutions. It is acutely toxic and can inflict serious or permanent injury. Vapors from the liquid can irritate the nose and eyes, and, if ingested, can cause vomiting and headaches.
  • Combustible liquids

According to the CDC, many of these substances are frequently transported across the U.S.; benzene, for example, ranks in the top 20 chemicals by production volume in the country.

The Timeline

Friday, February 3rd: The train, which was heading from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania, was carrying various products from frozen vegetables to industrial chemicals. Near East Palestine, Ohio, just before the Pennsylvania border, 38 of the train’s 150 train cars derailed and subsequent fires caused damages to another 12. Additionally, 11 of the derailed train cars carried hazardous material, the most dangerous being vinyl chloride.

The derailment caused a large fire and ominous plumes of smoke over East Palestine, but there were no fatalities or injuries. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the cause of the derailment is still under investigation.

Saturday, February 4th: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crews began running air pollution and water runoff tests. They detected contaminated water in two streams, Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.

Sunday, February 5th: The EPA and Norfolk Southern’s contractors continued testing, and recovery efforts were underway at the contaminated water sites.

Monday, February 6th: Responders conducted a controlled burn of toxic materials to destroy the remaining vinyl chloride, which posed a threat of explosion and subsequent toxic fumes and shrapnel. Because of this the standing evacuation order was extended to include a larger area. From the Ohio governor’s announcement:

“The controlled release process involves the burning of the rail cars’ chemicals, which will release fumes into the air that can be deadly if inhaled. Based on current weather patterns and the expected flow of the smoke and fumes, anyone who remains in the red affected area is facing grave danger of death.” – Mike DeWine

Wednesday, February 8th: Just days later, the governor announced that it was safe for residents to return home as air quality tests were coming back clean.

In the last week: Reports have been coming in of people feeling symptoms related to the release of toxic chemicals. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, reported that 3,500 fish were found dead in Ohio waterways as a direct result of the spill from the train derailment.

The EPA, however, has screened the air quality inside more than 400 homes, finding levels to be safe. A statement from the regional director of the EPA said that: “Since the fire went out on February 8, EPA air monitoring has not detected any levels of health concern in the community that are attributed to the train derailment.”

On Wednesday, the 15th, Norfolk Southern representatives pulled out of a meeting with town officials, causing outrage among residents. The following day, EPA administrator, Michael Regan, visited East Palestine to quell the anger and fears, but residents are still unhappy and skeptical of the testing.

The largest remaining issue is that water quality connected to the Ohio River, which is still being monitored. The governor has recommended only drinking bottled water.

The Overall Impacts

The town of East Palestine is home to just over 4,000 people and the crash happened dangerously close to the city of Pittsburgh, PA. Contamination in the water supply have led to the deaths of thousands of fish and people are now complaining of reactions to the chemical leakage.

Norfolk Southern has set up an Assistance Center and donated over $1 million to help people cover costs of evacuation, as well as conducting extensive testing of air and water quality. The governor is now calling for tighter regulations on rail companies and a number of lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern.

Click for Comments


Ranked: America’s Best Universities

Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.



Ranked: America’s Best Universities

The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.

“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:

  • Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
  • Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
  • Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
  • Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.

The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.

From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.

Which are the Best Universities in America?

At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.

Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.

RankSchool NameStateTuition
1Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$59,710
Institute of
3Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$59,076
3Stanford UniversityCalifornia$62,484
5Yale UniversityConnecticut$64,700
6University of
7California Institute
of Technology
7Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$66,172
9Brown UniversityRhode Island$68,230
9Johns Hopkins
9Northwestern UniversityIllinois$65,997
12Columbia UniversityNew York$65,524
12Cornell UniversityNew York$66,014
12University of ChicagoIllinois$65,619
15University of
California, Berkeley
California$48,465 (out-state)
$15,891 (in-state)
15University of
California, LA
California$46,326 (out-state)
$13,752 (in-state)
17Rice UniversityTexas$58,128
18Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire$65,511
18Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee$63,946
20University of Notre DameIndiana$62,693
21University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor
Michigan$57,273 (out-state)
$17,786 (in-state)
22Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC$65,082
22University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina$39,338 (out-state)
$8,998 (in-state)
24Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania$63,829
24Emory UniversityGeorgia$60,774
24University of VirginiaVirginia$58,950 (out-state)
$22,323 (in-state)
University, St. Louis
28University of
California, Davis
California$46,043 (out-state)
$15,266 (in-state)
28University of
California, San Diego
California$48,630 (out-state)
$16,056 (in-state)
28University of FloridaFlorida$28,658 (out-state)
$6,381 (in-state)
28University of
Southern California
32University of
Texas, Austin
Texas$41,070 (out-state)
$11,698 (in-state)
33Georgia Institute
of Technology
Georgia$32,876 (out-state)
$11,764 (in-state)
33University of
California, Irvine
California$47,759 (out-state)
$15,185 (in-state)
35New York UniversityNew York$60,438
35University of
California, Santa
California$45,658 (out-state)
$14,881 (in-state)
35University of Illinois
Illinois$36,068 (out-state)
$17,572 (in-state)
35University of
Wisconsin, Madison
Wisconsin$40,603 (out-state)
$11,205 (in-state)
39Boston CollegeMassachusetts$67,680
40Rutgers University,
New Brunswick
New Jersey$36,001 (out-state)
$17,239 (in-state)
40Tufts UniversityMassachusetts$67,844
40University of WashingtonWashington$41,997 (out-state)
$12,643 (in-state)
43Boston UniversityMassachusetts$65,168
43The Ohio State UniversityOhio$36,722 (out-state)
$12,485 (in-state)
43Purdue University,
Main Campus
Indiana$28,794 (out-state)
$9,992 (in-state)
46University of
Maryland, College
Maryland$40,306 (out-state)
$11,505 (in-state)
47Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania$62,180
47Texas A&M UniversityTexas$40,607 (out-state)
$12,413 (in-state)
47University of GeorgiaGeorgia$30,220 (out-state)
$11,180 (in-state)
47University of RochesterNew York$64,384
47Virginia TechVirginia$36,090 (out-state)
$15,478 (in-state)
47Wake Forest UniversityNorth Carolina$64,758
53Case Western
Reserve University
53Florida State UniversityFlorida$21,683 (out-state)
$6,517 (in-state)
53Northeastern UniversityMassachusetts$63,141
53University of
Minnesota, Twin
Minnesota$36,402 (out-state)
$16,488 (in-state)
53William & MaryVirginia$48,841 (out-state)
$25,041 (in-state)

MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.

Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.

For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.

As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.

However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.

Best University versus Best “Fit”

Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.

Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.

In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.

Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.

However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.

Continue Reading