Train Derailment in Ohio raises Environmental concerns, Distrust in Government

Recently, a Norfolk-Southern-operated train with about 150 train cars was derailed in the small village of East Palestine, Ohio. Approximately 32 train cars fell off the track and tipped over, releasing toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride (which is used to make PVC, a compound used in piping and construction) that they contained. The chemicals were being transported on the train through East Palestine before it derailed in the evening hours of Feb. 3rd while passing near a tributary of the Ohio River, a major source of water for multiple states in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. After the derailment, a fire began on the derailed train cars, which released a thick plume of smoke over East Palestine before the village was ordered to evacuate. About 1,500 residents of East Palestine were evacuated with help from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Columbia County Emergency Management (CCEM), and Norfolk-Southern, and taken to multiple shelters as authorities attempted to contain the blaze. After fears of an explosion potentially happening due to the buildup of explosive chemicals on site, the EPA conducted a “controlled release” of the toxic chemicals to prevent the explosion, which proved successful, but resulted in a large cloud of burned chemicals shooting above East Palestine. In widely circulated cellphone videos from the Internet, residents of East Palestine who were allowed to return to their homes filmed the sky being blackened with clouds of chemicals and dead fish in the rivers surrounding the village, as well as reporting that their farm animals and pets were falling ill.

Portions of the derailed Locomotive as seen from the air several days after the derailment. (CNN)

Many residents of East Palestine are also currently skeptical about information being provided to them by Federal, State and Corporate entities about the disaster. Many of East Palestines’ residens have already planned to relocate, and many businesses are quickly becoming defunct and shuttered. In an interview with BBC, married couple John and Lisa Hamner of East Palestine reflected on the condition of their family built trucking business. “It totally wrecked our life. I’m at the point now where I want out of here. We’re going to relocate, we can’t do it no more.” (BBC). East Palestine residents also reported that the town itself stunk like Vinyl Chloride and Chlorine, and many residents have reported being covered in rashes and having swollen eyes and lips, which they claim is from the lingering effects of the “controlled chemical release” done by the EPA and Norfolk-Southern. Ohio governor Mike DeWine held a press conference in Columbus on Feb. 17th which attempted to calm the fears being held by East Palestine residents. He urged residents to stay calm and continue drinking bottled water and staying indoors as the government of Ohio and the EPA continue testing the area for toxic contamination from chemicals associated with the disaster. He also stated that the State government believed Norfolk-Southern was responsible for the derailment and any following damages related to the chemical spill, and noted that the State Attorney-General was looking into the case.


New York Times


EPA Press Release

Associated Press

BBC Interview

The Columbus Dispatch

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