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In 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of vinyl chloride in aerosols.
It is still used primarily to produce polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, one of the most widely produced plastics in the world.
As officials investigate the derailment of a freight train in Ohio, social media posts are making misleading claims about one chemical the train was transporting.
"Trying to understand why a train was carrying over 300,000 gallons of a chemical that was banned in 1974," one Feb. 18 Facebook post said. "And why that train derailed and was purposely set on fire and let burn for 3 days."
This claim is misleading. The National Transportation Safety Board has said only that the train carried 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride in five derailed tank cars. This compound was banned in 1974, but only for its use in aerosols. It’s still allowed in other products, including polyvinyl chloride.
On Feb. 3, 38 rail cars of a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Of the 38, 11 were tank cars carrying hazardous materials such as combustible liquids, flammable liquids and flammable gas, including vinyl chloride.
Vinyl chloride is linked to a higher risk of a rare form of liver cancer, particularly for people who are frequently exposed to it over long periods.
On Aug. 16, 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned using vinyl chloride in aerosols. At the time, this compound was included in paints, paint removers, adhesives and solvents.
"Although there is no evidence directly linking cancer to the use of aerosols containing vinyl chloride, consumers are always subject to inhalation of the substance whenever they use aerosols that contain it. And there is no known safe exposure level," the commission said in 1974.
Aside from plastic production, vinyl chloride is also still used to make things such as furniture and automobile upholstery.
In 1990, vinyl chloride was the ninth most transported hazardous commodity by rail in the U.S. The Association of American Railroads reported that 2% of the 2.21 million carloads of chemicals transported by rail in 2021 contained industrial gases, including vinyl chloride.
The association noted that more than 99.9% of all hazardous materials moved by rail reaches its destination without a release caused by a train accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board in a Feb. 22 report said that after responders arrived at the Ohio derailment site and mitigated the fire, authorities were concerned about five derailed tank cars carrying 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, because the temperature in one tank car was rising.
The claim mentioned that there were 300,000 gallons of a chemical, but the board mentioned only the 115,580 gallons in five derailed tank cars of concern. It is unclear where the claim got the 300,000 figure.
When vinyl chloride — a flammable petrochemical — is exposed to heat, it can undergo a rapid polymerization reaction, which can pose a risk for explosion.
The increase in the tank car’s temperature meant the vinyl chloride was likely undergoing a polymerization reaction. So, to prevent an explosion, responders conducted a "controlled venting" of the five tank cars to release and burn the vinyl chloride.They dug ditches to contain the released vinyl chloride liquid while it vaporized and burned.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said that 247,000 gallons of liquid waste were transported for disposal as of Feb. 17, but did not say this included only vinyl chloride.
Facebook posts say the train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio was carrying 300,000 gallons of a chemical that was banned in 1974.
The train was carrying at least 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride. It is unclear whether there was more vinyl chloride in the other tank cars.
Vinyl chloride is used primarily to produce polyvinyl chloride, one of the world’s most widely-produced plastics. Only its use in aerosols was banned in 1974.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Facebook post, Feb. 18, 2023
Facebook post, Feb 20. 2023
Ohio Department of Health, Vinyl Chloride, accessed Feb. 23, 2023
National Cancer Institute, Vinyl Chloride, accessed Feb. 24, 2023
National Transportation Safety Board, Norfolk Southern Railway Train Derailment with Subsequent Hazardous Material Release and Fires, Feb. 22, 2023
Environmental Protection Agency, Train 32N - East Palestine, accessed Feb. 24, 2023
Environmental Protection Agency, Administrative Order to Norfolk Southern Railway Co. for Removal Actions, Feb. 21, 2023
Consumer Product Safety Commission, CPSC Issues Ban On Vinyl Chloride In Aerosols, Aug. 16, 1974
Association of American Railroads, What Railroads Haul: Chemicals, accessed Feb. 23, 2023
Our World in Data, Primary plastic production by polymer type, 2015, accessed Feb. 24, 2023
Department of Transportation, Hazardous Materials Transportation in Tank Cars: Analysis of Risks - Part 1, accessed Feb. 24, 2023
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Statement: Vinyl Chloride, accessed Feb. 24, 2023
McGill Office for Science and Society, Vinyl Chloride and the Ohio Train Derailment, Feb. 16, 2023
CBS News, What to know about vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals on the train that derailed in Ohio, Feb. 14, 2023
New York Times, This Deadly Chemical Should Be Banned, Feb. 19, 2023
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