An attached status update referenced unrelated news about “unidentified objects” in the skies over North America after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down:
Meanwhile in Ohio.
Google Trends data for the seven-day period ending February 14 2023 evidenced widespread searching for terms related to both stories. A search for “Ohio plume” indicated the terms “Ohio death plume,” “plume of death,” “Ohio river,” “Ohio toxic cloud,” “ufo,” and “ufo shot down” all had “Breakout” levels of interest.
A February 13 2023 post to Reddit’s r/antiwork (shared at least twice to Imgur) had a screengrab of a tweet linking December 2022 news about railroad unions and an averted strike with the February 3 2023 Ohio train derailment. It began by describing a “massive death plume spanning multiple counties in Ohio”:
In the tweet, it wasn’t apparent if the “massive death plume” literally referenced the image circulating on Facebook, or if the author intended the phrasing to be a more general description of environmental contamination in the area. As for the image, reverse image search site TinEye first crawled it in a February 9 2023 post to Imgur (where the submitter indicated that it was not their photograph):
A day later it appeared on r/pics, described as a “controlled burn” near the derailment site in Ohio; a “controlled burn” (or “prescribed burn”) is the intentional burning of woodlands or other things in an effort to mitigate risk to people and animals:
As of February 14 2023, a week and a half had passed since the initial incident in East Palestine, Ohio. On February 6 2023, ABC News published “Ohio train derailment: Controlled burn of toxic chemicals went ‘as planned,’ PA gov says,” noting that the plume was visible on that date:
A controlled vent and burn of toxic chemicals at the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, went “as planned,” and “no concerning” air and water quality readings have been detected, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Monday night [February 6 2023].
“For now, out of an abundance of caution, Pennsylvanians who live within two miles of East Palestine, where this derailment occurred, should just continue to shelter in place this evening and keep your windows and your doors closed,” Shapiro said.
Crews monitoring air quality “have not seen anything” unexpected, the Environmental Protection Agency said during an evening press conference with local officials.
“So far, so good. And we’re going to continue to monitor until the fire’s out,” James Justice of the EPA said.
A large ball of fire and plume of black smoke could be seen earlier Monday [February 6 2023] as the burn took place.
On February 8 2023, NPR’s coverage of conditions near the Ohio derailment site emphasized that water and air quality was being monitored after the controlled burn, concluding:
Evacuated residents can safely return to the Ohio village where crews burned toxic chemicals after a train derailed five days ago near the Pennsylvania state line, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said Wednesday [February 8 2023].
Authorities in East Palestine had warned that burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the derailed tanker cars would send hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the air. They said Wednesday [February 8 2023] subsequent air monitoring hasn’t detected dangerous levels inside or outside the mile-radius evacuation zone, which stretched into Pennsylvania. Drabick said air and water samples taken Tuesday [February 7 2023] from the evacuation area show it’s now safe, and the evacuation order is lifted. He thanked state and federal officials and agencies that helped with the emergency response over the past few days.
James Justice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said around-the-clock air monitoring has shown normal, un-concerning levels. Hundreds of data points from that “show that the air quality in the town is safe,” he said.
A February 11 2023 CNN.com article touched upon residents’ fears about returning to their homes after the evacuation. Like NPR, CNN quoted EPA official James Justice’s assertion that the water and air in the area were “normal”:
Five of the tankers on the train that overturned last week were carrying liquid vinyl chloride, which is extremely combustible. Last Sunday [February 5 2023], they became unstable and threatened to explode. First responders and emergency workers had to vent the tankers, spill the vinyl chloride into a trench, and then burn it off before it turned the train into a bomb. Authorities feared that an explosion could send shrapnel up to a mile away.
But that didn’t happen. The controlled burn worked and the evacuation order for East Palestine residents was officially lifted Wednesday after real-time air and water monitoring did not find any contaminant levels above screening limits.
“All of the readings we’ve been recording in the community have been at normal concentrations, normal backgrounds, which you find in almost any community,” James Justice, a representative of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said at a briefing Wednesday [February 8 2023].
Back on February 7 2023, TheIntelligencer.net published “Controlled Burn Successful at Site of East Palestine Train Derailment,” citing a press release from the railroad (Norfork Southern) as a primary source:
The explosion, fire and huge plume of smoke over East Palestine, Ohio, on Monday [February 6 2023] looked like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, but the controlled burn operation at a derailed train in Columbiana County worked, according to Norfolk Southern.
“The controlled breach of several rail cars has been completed successfully under the supervision of experts and first responders. Some of the material is now burning off consistent with expectations from the earlier models, and is expected to drain for a short number of hours.
“We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio EPA. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue,” a Norfolk Southern press release said.
A very brief February 11 2023 WFMJ item indicated, vaguely, that Norfork Southern would “alert some residents that their well water might not be safe.” On February 13 2023 — the same day the Facebook post was published — ABC News published “There were more toxic chemicals on train that derailed in Ohio than originally reported, data shows,” linking to an EPA.gov PDF list and reporting:
State health officials were initially concerned about the presence of vinyl chloride, a highly volatile colorless gas produced for commercial uses, which spilled after about 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern Railroad train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3  while traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania. Other toxins, like phosgene and hydrogen chloride, were emitted in large plumes of smoke during a controlled release and burn, prompting officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders in a one-mile radius of the crash site.
A list of the cars that were involved in the derailment and the products they were carrying released by Norfolk Southern reveal several more toxic chemicals that were released into the air and soil following the crash.
Among the substances were ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene were also in the rail cars that were derailed, the list shows.
Contact with ethylhexyl acrylate, a carcinogen, can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes, and inhalation can irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On that date, Norfork Southern also issued a press release, “Update on Norfolk Southern Assistance to the East Palestine, OH Community.” It focused more on the company’s perceived “good deeds” after the derailment, but briefly mentioned the environmental effects of the derailment:
Norfolk Southern has been closely coordinating with the Columbiana County Health District, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio EPA, and the U.S. EPA, as well as its own experts and contractors to monitor and mitigate environmental issues and concerns … Residents who want air and water testing should contact the Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline at (330) 849-3919. If residents have further questions or concerns, they may call the CTEH Taggart Road Hotline at (234) 542-6474 to speak with a toxicologist.
A February 13 2023 Facebook post depicting an ominous plume of dark smoke in Ohio was accurately described. The image was captured on or around February 6 2023, and depicted a “controlled burn” conducted near the site of the Ohio train derailment. On the same day the image was shared to Facebook, ABC News reported that there were “more toxic chemicals aboard the train that derailed in Ohio than originally reported.”