Pitt scientist with experience studying vinyl chloride shares concerns following train derailment

PITTSBURGH — Dr. Juliane Beier is a leading expert in the United States, exclusively studying vinyl chloride, the substance that leaked and burned in the East Palestine train derailment.

Beier is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. Her research is focused on how vinyl chloride, at what OSHA considers safe levels, enhances liver disease.

“We don’t really know what the concentrations are that may cause long-term risks,” Dr. Beier said. “To me what’s more of a concern, even if the concentrations are considered safe, are they really?”

Beier’s major concern is the water, specifically well water that isn’t tested. She explained that because vinyl chloride is a gas, at room temperature it will come out of the water and back into the air.

“The outdoor air is a little less problematic because vinyl chloride gets dispersed very quickly and broken down by the sunlight, within a few days, it’s a similar situation in the soil or open body of water. However, one of the things I always emphasize if it goes into the ground water and transported to homes and private wells, it is highly volatile, so it can suffuse into air within those closed spaces,” she said. “It comes out of the water, into the air and that’s really the major route of toxicity for the liver. It comes through the air.”

This week Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said water testing results showed no detection of contaminants in the wells in the city’s water system. Channel 11′s Cara Sapida told Dr. Beier that DeWine said he would drink the water right now.

“Would you drink the water?” Cara asked.

“Absolutely not,” she replied.

Beier invited us into her laboratory where her research has studied mice who were subjected to what’s considered safe levels of vinyl chloride over a period of time, they found that 100% of those mice developed tumors.

“We see that it affects the breathing of the mice, this is coming from a cellular level. We see effects as early as 3 weeks exposure,” Beier said.

Beier says there is not enough human research to gauge what level of exposure is safe, but high levels are known to cause liver cancer.

“The low concentrations are a little more tricky. They may have no symptoms; it’s all silent and it develops silently and over a long period of time.”

Beier says no government officials have reached out to her for insight into the chemical, but she would welcome the opportunity to collaborate and even study samples.

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