New report warns of toxic 'bomb train' risk

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Nearly a year after a freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, a new research report estimates that more than 3 million Americans are at risk from potential derailments involving the same substances.

The report, issued by the environmental health advocacy group Toxic Free Future, estimates that at any given moment, American railroads are carrying up to 36 million pounds of vinyl chloride across 2,000 miles. The rail traffic primarily serves three facilities in Illinois, New Jersey and Ontario, but the route to the New Jersey facility begins in Texas, putting a broad stretch of the eastern U.S. at risk.

This swath of the country includes points in hundreds of smaller towns and cities such as East Palestine, as well as population centers including Austin, Texas; Houston; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; and Little Rock, Ark. Residents along this route include an estimated 670,000 children.

No one was killed or injured by the East Palestine disaster, which sent a plume of toxic fumes into the atmosphere after local authorities conducted a controlled burn. However, local residents have expressed concern about long-term health issues from exposure to the substances.

“The people of East Palestine were forced to learn the hard way that tank cars of vinyl chloride rumbling through your town can mean disaster for your health and your community,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future that lobbies retailers to discontinue sales of toxic chemicals. “It is outrageous that the amount of vinyl chloride involved in that tragedy reflects only a small percentage of the millions of pounds that is transported at any given moment.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing safety risks associated with vinyl chloride, a multiyear process that could end in a formal determination that it poses an “unreasonable” risk to human and environmental health. 

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