(Last Updated On: May 6, 2023)

Restoring Air Quality in Your Home After a Local Disaster

7 min read

Firefighters cleaning up chemical spill by train car

When a disaster – like the train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio – happens it brings up so many questions about things we don’t normally think about. Chief among them – how safe is the air we are breathing? Emergency workers in Ohio had to release a dangerous chemical called vinyl chloride into the air to keep the train cars from exploding. During the release, the vinyl chloride was set on fire to burn it off – but in the process produced other toxic gasses like hydrogen chloride and phosgene.

Phosgene is a highly toxic, dangerous and deadly gas. It causes vomiting and severe breathing trouble and was actually used as a weapon in World War I. Hydrogen chloride can irritate the skin, nose, throat, and lungs. It can damage the respiratory tissues and cause a large amount of fluid to build in the lungs, leading to death. Phosgene reacts with moisture (water or alcohols). In water, it slowly decomposes to hydrochloric acid and carbon dioxide. When heated to decomposition, it will produce toxic and corrosive fumes. Vinyl chloride can cause similar respiratory irritations in the short-term, and can lead to cancer in the long-term.

None of these are chemicals you want to be exposed to. So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family in these emergency situations – and in general? It’s always important to listen to the emergency workers who are trained to handle these situations. You’ll likely either be evacuated or told to stay indoors until you’re given the all clear.

On February 22nd, the EPA issued a legally binding order threatening hefty fines against Norfolk Southern for every day the company fails to fully clean up the chemicals and associated environmental impacts. EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN, “They will clean up every single piece of debris, all of the contamination, to EPA specifications and satisfaction. Number two: They will pay for it – fully pay for it.”

Regan announced on February 16th that the agency had not detected contamination in the water or vinyl chloride in any of their nearly 500 home air quality tests. However, per the New York Times, many residents are dissatisfied with the agency’s efforts and have begun hiring private companies to do follow-up testing. The smell of chemicals still hangs in the air, and it seems clear that the impacts of this disaster will continue to be felt for quite some time. One of the main concerns that residents have expressed is that the detection devices are not adequately able to detect vinyl chloride and phosgene, while residents are also still experiencing effects such as rashes, respiratory issues, and other symptoms.

Air Purifiers Help Clear the Air in Your Home

In an emergency like this train derailment, many people find themselves out of options. The air surrounding their home is toxic, but they do not have the ability to simply up and leave or move to a new location. It simply isn’t a realistic option for many people, who become trapped in unhealthy environments. If leaving your home is not an option, an air purifier can be a huge asset in keeping the air in your home as safe as possible.

When it comes to removing chemicals, gasses and odors, an air purifier that also includes activated carbon is a good choice. Activated carbon works through a process called adsorption. It has little pores and pockets that increase its surface area, so when gasses and chemicals pass through, they get stuck in the pores, thereby cleaning the air that’s released. Activated carbon/charcoal’s ability to adsorb phosgene, vinyl chloride, and a myriad of other VOCs has been well established and documented in numerous studies and scholarly articles.

How Many Air Purifiers Do I Need?

Flexibility in an emergency is critical, so remember these devices can be moved from room to room if a crisis occurs. When you’re trying to restore the air quality inside your home after a chemical spill, it’s most beneficial to have an air purifier in every room. But most people can’t afford to do that. So, pick the room where you and your family will benefit most. When choosing an air purifier, you want to make sure it covers the space you plan to put it in. Every air purifier is designed to cover a certain amount of square footage. For a chemical concern, we recommend 2 air exchanges an hour, more if you can handle the noise. It may very well be the living area since that’s where you spend the most time together. But if it’s just you and your spouse or partner, the bedroom may be the best choice since you spend several hours there each night.

Air Quality Monitoring

It’s always good to know the air quality inside your home. Several companies make air quality monitors, but they won’t do much good if you don’t have a way to address the pollution problem. That’s why your best bet and investment is buying an air purifier equipped with an air quality monitor.

Several companies that manufacture air purifiers have realized how important the monitoring piece is and have started including one as part of the unit. These devices provide a peace of mind, but one needs to remember that most monitors do not measure the 600 + chemicals that carbon and additives can absorb. Air purifiers with air quality monitors detect dirty air in real-time, and will adjust the fan speed accordingly to clean it. So, you don’t have to do a thing, other than turn the air purifier on.

Alen BreatheSmart
75i with Carbon
Air Purifier

$750 Buy Now

What Kind of Air Purifiers to Consider

The Alen 75i is a good choice for particle, chemical and gas filtration. The Alen True HEPA Fresh + Carbon filter captures airborne irritants, as well as smoke and VOCs. This filter is the best option for the 75i, with 3.6 pounds of chemical carbon mixture combined with HEPA filter technology.

The Alen BreatheSmart 75i will cost around $770 and comes with the Alen Forever Guarantee. It will cover up to 1300 square feet every 30 minutes and is equipped with an air quality monitor that uses laser-sensoring technology. The unit is whisper quiet, Energy Star certified and can be controlled through Alen’s app. The filters will last up to 15 months, so they don’t need to be replaced as often as other brands.

The Austin Air Healthmate Plus is also a good option for removing chemicals and VOCs from the air. The Austin Air Heathlmate Plus contains nearly 15 pounds of a chemical compound mixture. This mixture includes activated carbon and zeolite. The compound is also impregnated with potassium iodide. This chemical is known for its ability to absorb odors and chemical fumes from air and trap them. Once the air has been through the filtering system, the particles and contaminants are eliminated.

Austin Air HealthMAte Plus Air Purifier Austin Air
HealthMate Plus
Air Purifier

$855 Buy Now


We can’t control what happens in the world or the pollution and health hazards it may create. And when those things happen it can be stressful, difficult and even dangerous. But we can control how we prepare for the unexpected and create a safe space inside our homes. Investing in an air purifier is a good way to help yourself and your family breathe cleaner, healthier air – during an emergency situation and every other day of the year.

Best Air Purifier for Restoring Air Quality in Your Home

Alen Breathesmart
75i with Carbon
Air Purifier

$769 Buy Now

2nd Best Air Purifier for Restoring Air Quality in Your Home

Austin Air
Healthmate Plus
Air Purifier

$850 Buy Now

Better Air Purifier for Restoring Air Quality in Your Home

Classic 605
Air Purifier

$498 Buy Now

Good Air Purifier for Restoring Air Quality in Your Home

Rabbit Air
BioGS 2.0
Air Purifier

$400 Buy Now

2nd Good Option for Restoring Air Quality in Your Home

AirMega 400
Air Purifier

$450 Buy Now