NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Despite several concerns, officials say Tennesseans can “rest assured” toxic chemicals from a train derailment in Ohio will not make their way into the state.
On Monday, Feb. 13 — 10 days after a freight train pulling multiple highly flammable, toxic chemicals derailed in a fiery crash in East Palestine — some residents received alerts that the air quality was poor in the Nashville area.
However, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the alert stemmed from a “glitch in data reporting,” and that there were no legitimate concerns. Current air quality data can be found at airnow.gov.
According to the National Weather Service in Nashville, the state shouldn’t see “any impacts” from the disaster in Ohio. Lead Forecaster Sam Shamburger said it comes down to weather patterns, blowing any toxic gases remaining in the air in the opposite direction.
“The upper-level winds across the Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley — so Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio — are all from southwest to northeast right now and they’re really strong,” Shamburger said. “So that would blow anything in Ohio to the Northeast, away from us.”
Vinyl chloride, a gas used to make plastic products, was slowly released into the air from five of the train cars before crews ignited it to get rid of the chemicals in a controlled environment, according to rail operator Norfolk Southern and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Residents in the immediate area and nearby in Pennsylvania were evacuated beforehand because of health risks from the fumes.
Some of the contaminates also spilled into nearby waterways. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated the spill affected more than seven miles of streams and killed some 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters.
However, Shamburger said the drinking water in Tennessee should remain safe, explaining that any contamination “wouldn’t even be able to get into Middle Tennessee at all” because water from the Ohio River does not enter the Cumberland Plateau.
“That derailment occurred along the Ohio River, or close to it,” Shamburger said. “All of that water would flow down the Ohio River into the Mississippi River and stay along the Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois border, and then flow down the Mississippi river into the Gulf of Mexico.”
After receiving questions about the situation, Metro Water Services in Nashville made an announcement Wednesday Feb. 15 stating that the department is “constantly monitoring” the city’s drinking water to ensure it remains safe.
“As a water utility, we closely follow all events affecting water quality,” the statement read. “However, the train derailment affecting the Ohio River does not affect the Cumberland River or Nashville’s drinking water.”
Recent water sample results of the Ohio River by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission indicate that the chemical butyl acrylate is present but decreasing significantly as trace amounts travel down river.
The most up-to-date information can be found by visiting the Ohio Emergency Management Agency’s website. To find out more, click here.