'Unusual Odor' In Hudson Valley Sparks Fears Of Contamination From Chemical Train Derailment

This story has been updated.

The scene of the trail derailment  in East Palestine, Ohio.
The scene of the trail derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Photo Credit: Mingo Junction fire department

Environmental officials in New York are investigating multiple reports of strange odors in the air, sparking concerns they may be tied to the chemical train derailment in eastern Ohio, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, and its subsequent fire.

In a statement to Daily Voice on Friday, Feb. 17, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said it is responding to reports in the Hudson Valley of an “unusual odor in the air.”

“DEC has not received any reports from regulated emissions sources about releases that could contribute to the odors described and is investigating,” the agency said.

Friday evening, an agency spokesperson said a "comprehensive investigation" into the odors was ongoing, and that staff had determined that the strongest odors were found in Orange County, "indicating a localized source."

"No imminent public health or environmental threat was detected based on initial air readings taken by DEC," the agency said. "We will continue to update the community as the investigation progresses."

Environmental officials gave no indication that the odors are connected to the Ohio train derailment, despite rampant speculation on social media. 

Several Hudson Valley residents reported smelling an unusual odor on Friday, including in Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, and Putnam counties. Some also reported finding a filmy substance on their car windshields.

“It smells like soapy chemicals in Hopewell Junction,” Emily Marchesiello-Francome wrote on the Hudson Valley Weather Facebook page.

“Definitely noticed some kind of burned rubber smell every time I walked out my door,” Christine Manning Ingersoll, of Katonah, said. “Also noticed my windshield had a film I couldn’t wash off and the roads had something on them that you could see car tire marks on.”

The DEC encouraged New Yorkers with additional information to contact the state’s spill hotline at 1-800-457-7362 or DEC’s Region 3 Office at 845-256-3000.

Ohio Train Derailment

Environmental concerns arose almost immediately after 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, in the village of East Palestine, on Friday, Feb. 3.

Nobody was injured, but several cars were carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, which can cause respiratory problems and an increased risk of liver cancer, according to the CDC.

Firefighters later conducted what was described as a “controlled explosion” at the crash site in an effort to avoid a much larger explosion. The resulting plume of smoke was seen for miles and sparked fears of air contamination.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said air quality testing conducted at the site has not found “any levels of health concern.” Authorities also said the village’s drinking water was safe, but advised residents with private wells to have their water tested.

Federal investigators believe the derailment was caused by a mechanical problem with a rail car axle.

"The three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect shortly before the derailment," Michael Graham, a board member of the NTSB, said in a press conference. 

Investigators identified the exact “point of derailment,” but the board was "still working to determine which rail car experienced the axle issue."

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