Derailment in Ohio: wind of panic in Canada, Ottawa denounces the rumors

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Derailment in Ohio: panic in Canada, Ottawa denounces the rumours

Ottawa took more than a week before to deny the rumours.

Screenshot of two publications circulating.

For more than a week, a wave of panic has taken hold of social networks in Canada over the derailment of a train that took place on February 3 in East Palestine, in the State of Ohio. Posts on all platforms claim that this ecological disaster crossed our border.

They found phosgene, a toxic product, in the snow that fell in Montreal.

East Palestine cloud is coming to Quebec, writes another. Apparently it goes all the way back.

Here's what the media isn't telling you about the Ohio train derailment.

The train at the heart of the accident was transporting several toxic substances, including vinyl chloride. On February 6, the American authorities released and then controlled the burning of these substances to avoid an explosion, creating a column of black smoke visible for miles around.

On Friday afternoon, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) sought to deny these rumors on its official Twitter account.

We regret that certain social media messages are raising concern among Canadians about the effects that the February 3 train derailment in Ohio in the United States could have on the environment and health. the ministry.

Together with Health Canada, we have carefully studied data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the location of the incident, the chemicals involved, their reaction in the atmosphere, winds dominant and the duration of rejection. The Government of Canada has determined that there is no expected risk to the environment or the health of people in Canada, read a series of tweets.

On the Quebec side, the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks (MELCCFP) claimed to have analyzed the concentrations of fine particles throughout its territory since the date of the 'accident.

Emissions from the fire caused by the train derailment do not appear to have influenced air quality in Quebec, likely because the plume of smoke was heavily diluted before reaching the province, its official told us. spokesperson, Frédéric Fournier.

As for the toxic substances released by the derailment, including phosgene and vinyl chloride, the department is less certain. If it claims not to have detected phosgene in the air of Quebec, the MELCCFP says to monitor the presence of vinyl chloride in certain stations on the territory of the province – but cannot reveal the results of its tests.

As these are samples analyzed in the laboratory, the results are only available several months after sampling. We therefore cannot know for the moment if the events that took place in Ohio could have had an impact on the concentrations of these contaminants recorded in Quebec, replied Mr. Fournier.

Dr. Parisa Ariya, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Chemistry at McGill University, welcomes the government's attempt to reassure the public.

I think we have enough environmental problems in Canada that we should be concerned about, she said. I don't think [this derailment] is a major problem for us. That doesn't mean it couldn't be a major problem for people in Ohio.

She still thinks that we will have to keep an eye on the situation. We don't know yet because with environmental disasters like this, we can't know the results right away. It takes time, she explains.

More than a week ago, Radio-Canada began receiving questions from Internet users who had seen worrying publications and wanted to get the facts straight. So we wrote to ECCC for answers.

With southern Ontario located directly north and northwest of the occurrence site, and prevailing winds being from the west and southwest, it is highly unlikely that the region was affected, we were told, on February 17.

We then indicated that, according to the rumors in question, the pollution cloud would have affected not only southern Ontario, but also Quebec. We asked if ECCC's answer was also valid for Quebec and if the wind analysis was for February 6, the day of release.

ECCC claimed to need to consult experts to get an answer. We were asked to wait until the following week.

On Tuesday morning, ECCC sent us the same response as on February 17, with one detail: the sentence that mentioned that it was unlikely that southern Ontario was affected was no longer there. So we once again asked for clarification from ECCC, who told us to wait until the next day, Wednesday. It was only Friday that the department finally denied the rumors on its Twitter account.

Screenshot of the circulating map

Several publications contained a map supposedly showing the pollution released at the time of this event. In this map, we see a huge black cloud that starts from East Palestine and covers large swaths of the northeastern United States, even extending to the east of the United States. Ontario and southern Quebec.

This is a real map, produced by the United States Oceanic and Atmospheric Observation Agency (NOAA). However, the interpretation made by these Internet users is completely false, confirms the organization's spokesperson, Monica Allen.

This The latter explains that it is a modeling of air currents on the evening of February 7, which is used, among other things, to make public health decisions. However, she points out, the map does not tell the whole story.

The map is useful for understanding air movement in the atmosphere, but it does not show pollution levels near the ground where people live and breathe. The pollution concentration decreases drastically the further one moves away [from the crash site], but this is not reflected in the graph, she adds.

< p class="e-p">Moreover, the fire deliberately caused by the American authorities lasted only a few hours. According to local media, the blaze began around 3:30 p.m. local time on February 6. At 8 p.m. that same evening, CNN reported from the scene that only a small fire was still raging.

At the time of the fire, weather stations in the area reported detecting the column of smoke rising from East Palestine on their radar screens.

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We were able to use historical data from US weather radars to visualize the extent of the cloud that hit the headlines and corroborate some information released by US media.

Around 3:46 p.m. , these radars detect a very dense cloud at the eastern limit of the municipality of East Palestine, where the derailment took place. The cloud grows and then completely disappears from radar around 6:47 p.m., which corresponds to the period of the fire reported by the media.

Enlarge image

Animated map showing the smoke cloud on atmospheric radar screens

On this radar map we see East Palestine, bottom left. The smoke cloud is shown in blue, green and yellow. The radar seizures were taken between 3:39 p.m. and 6:47 p.m., February 6, 2022, approximately seven minutes apart.

Ontario is approximately 200 km to the north, and Montreal more than 760 km to the northeast. Never did the thick cloud travel further than the village of Enon Valley, Pennsylvania, 6 km from the derailment site.

A video on TikTok claimed that phosgene, released by the incineration of vinyl chloride, could have ended up in the snow in Montreal. Dr. Ariya, one of whose expertise is snow, thinks this is a negligible possibility. She explains that since phosgene is a gas, it cannot act as a nucleus for the formation of precipitation like snow.

The situation in East Palestine is still serious. The evacuated residents have been able to return to their homes, but some say they are experiencing a litany of symptoms, such as headaches or coughs. Dead fish were found in the area.

Moreover, representatives of the railway company at the heart of the accident, Norfolk Southern, refused to meet with concerned citizens last Wednesday. While authorities say the levels of pollutants in the air and waterways are safe, many residents of East Palestine remain skeptical.


The causes of the accident are still not known. Unions representing train operators in the United States have been saying for years that some trains have too many cars and too few people on board, and that this can pose a risk of derailment.


With information from Thomas Gerbet

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