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Residents allowed to return after fiery Ohio train derailment

Vinyl chloride gas, which is toxic and can cause cancer, was released and burned off Monday following the Friday derailment and fire in East Palestine.
Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio, are still on fire on Feb. 4, 2023.
A fire burns Saturday after a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed the night before in East Palestine, Ohio.Gene J. Puskar / AP file

Residents of an Ohio town who were ordered to evacuate last week after a train carrying a toxic chemical derailed and caught fire will be allowed to return, officials said Wednesday.

The train carrying tankers of vinyl chloride derailed in East Palestine, a village of around 5,000 in eastern Ohio, on Friday night. Evacuation orders for the town were later expanded across the state line to Darlington Township in western Pennsylvania.

The safety of residents “has been our number one priority throughout,” East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said. After air and water samples were taken Tuesday, experts say it is safe to return.

Authorities on Monday conducted a release and burn-off of vinyl chloride, which is a toxic, flammable gas. Officials said they had feared a possible explosion if it was not released.

Vinyl chloride is used to make vehicle interiors and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, among other products.

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway on Wednesday thanked firefighters.

“These men behind us saved our town on Friday,” he said at a news conference. “This could have been a disaster.”

The number of residents that evacuated was described in the hundreds. There will be ongoing air monitoring in the area, but rail carrier Norfolk Southern will also do monitoring in homes if requested, the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania said in a statement.