Residents in East Palestine, Ohio, and neighboring communities still have questions about their health and safety after a train derailment resulted in toxic chemicals spilling into land, air and water.
Juan Hinestroza, professor of fiber science and apparel design, works on developing effective, comfortable masks to protect against COVID-19, and explores new pathways for creating multifunctional fibers at the nanoscale level. He says personal protective equipment can provide only limited protection from hazardous chemicals and that evacuation is the best way to avoid harmful exposure.
“This accident is incredibly serious as first responders and citizens will not only be exposed to the released chemicals, but also to, perhaps more dangerous, combustion and degradation products. It is simply not possible to anticipate with 100% accuracy what the decomposition products generated during explosions or fires in these types of complex situations are.
“Existing personal protective equipment (PPE), if properly fitted, can provide some level of protection to first responders, but just for a limited amount of time. The safest measure is to evacuate the zone. Once these compounds are airborne they can create severe problems in eyes, throats, and skin of anyone exposed to them, and depending of the exposure dose, lethal consequences may arise.
“The idea of fitting large numbers of people with PPE or masks and goggles against organic compounds is simply unrealistic. I feel that this horrible accident needs to be fully investigated to not only find its many causes, but also to serve as a catalyst for investments to better understand and improve the technologies and materials behind personal protective equipment against hazardous chemicals.”