Leo the cat allegedly poisoned by vinyl chloride spilled from East Palestine derailed train

NEWS AND VIEWS: This is a story making the news in animal protection today. It is sadly linked to that major disaster story which has been reported around the world in which derailed train cars – 20 of which were carrying hazardous chemicals – in Palestinian, Ohio, have killed nearly 44,000 animals.

Most of them are fish (minnows) and other marine wildlife because the chemicals spilled into a nearby river, streams and water courses but these large estimates do not include injuries or deaths to pet animals which are now emerging including an indoor a cat called Leo who had a pre-existing genetic heart condition possibly HCM. He suffered respiratory distress and was euthanised at a veterinarian’s clinic.

Leo before and after
Leo before and after. Images: Andrea Belden.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Some detail

It was suspected that Leo had been poisoned which has exacerbated the anxiety about the potential health impact of toxic fumes released from the derailed carriages.

Leo suffered from coughing fits and a very low blood pressure according to a report in Newsweek. Veterinary documents confirmed this diagnosis.

The train was operated by Norfolk Southern. Twenty carriages contained hazardous chemicals including, as mentioned, vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate.

Apparently, a controlled release (controlled burn to prevent explosion) of the hazardous chemicals took place and residents in the area were evacuated of February 6. You may have seen the images. Since the incident there have been reports of animals falling ill and some dying. The controlled burn potentially released phosgene; a toxic gas used in WWI.

Controlled burn of the chemicals after the spillage
Controlled burn of the chemicals after the spillage. Screenshot

We can probably expect some more stories to emerge. Andrea Belden and Zach Kramer, her boyfriend, were staying with family in East Palestine within the one-mile evacuation zone. At the time of the accident, they were out to dinner. They rushed back to their home and evacuated it with their companion animals and in the evening noticed that Leo who is an indoor cat was unwell.

He had visited the vet on January 18 and declared okay. But he began to have issues. Andrea thought that he was having a panic attack. He had laboured breathing and a high heart rate.

By the next morning he had not moved and they took him to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Clinic as quickly as possible.

They did some tests and diagnosed congestive heart failure. He was admitted to the hospital. Andrea was called the next day told that his heart was enlarged. He had fluid around his heart and lungs and a very low blood pressure. His liver enzymes were very high.

Andrea concluded that this was due to the vinyl chloride poisoning. Her vet said that when humans are poisoned by vinyl chloride it can affect the skin, liver, lungs and heart.

Leo was placed on a diuretic medicine. He responded positively but still had laboured breathing and low blood pressure. He was very passive and not eating or drinking.

The veterinarian decided that his underlying genetic art disease had been dramatically exacerbated by the poisoning. His veterinary treatment had reached $8,000 with an estimate of up to $18,000 and a demand for $11,000 pretty well immediately to continue treatment.

Andrea asked for financial assistance from the railway company but was denied because they decided it wasn’t an emergency. They couldn’t afford to keep treating Leo and he wasn’t improving.

They were forced to make a heartbreaking decision: to euthanise him. They were concerned about his suffering.

Some residents in the area use private wells and they’ve been advised to have them tested immediately. It has been described as a “truly enormous environmental disaster” by an atmospheric chemist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Gabriel Da Silva.

Some more on disasters are below:

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