Ohio Train Disaster
On February 3, a train carrying toxic materials derailed and contaminated East Palestine, OH, and surrounding areas.
On February 3, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in eastern Ohio, starting a fire that contaminated the soil, water, and air around the 38-car derailment. The train, operated by Norfolk Southern, is a company that gives large amounts of money to Ohio Republicans (more on that later). On February 6, authorities performed a controlled release of toxic materials from five tankers, the contents of which were diverted to a trench and burned off. The Environmental Protection Agency stated that contaminants have not reached “levels of concern” status within the surrounding areas and continue investigating the damage. This initial response is typical of environmental investigations, often marred by political concerns. Look at the video below for what is likely the actual situation happening on the ground.
The effect of this type of disaster on a community is devastating. Residents will likely never be sure that their air, water, and land are “clean;” the government has become an untrustworthy source of information regarding these matters. Those with money and quality employment skills will flee the area for greener pastures, while those less well-off will be forced to stay as their greatest asset (home value) has plummeted. The devaluation extends the time residents will have to work before retiring. Depending on the severity of the contamination, children may become contaminated and face developmental challenges and aggressive diseases. Similarly, adults may develop cancers and other ailments from the contamination. Residents have already complained about feeling sick after the accident.
The company responsible, Norfolk Southern, has lobbied extensively to fight legislation requiring increased safety for train operators. They have also donated large amounts of money to Ohio governor Mike DeWine (R) and other Republicans in the state senate. Over the last six years, Norfolk Southern's lobbying efforts have targeted governor DeWine and other state lawmakers 39 times. Since the accident, the organization has come under scrutiny and pledged $6.5M as a “down payment” to remain in the area and clean up its mess. Not that they have a choice; on February 21, the EPA issued a binding order forcing Norfolk Southern to clean up under EPA supervision.
The political fallout of this disaster has been interesting. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took days to speak on the matter and did not visit East Palestine until three weeks after the accident on February 23, despite numerous opportunities to do so. He has since commented that he could have “spoken out sooner” about the accident. The timing is obvious; Donald Trump made the trek to East Palestine on February 22. Buttigieg should be embarrassed over his response (or lack thereof) to this disaster in a state where Democrats have lost significant ground over the last couple of elections.
There are around 1,000 train derailments every year, an unacceptable number. The majority do not spill toxic chemicals and create environmental disasters. However, any type of train accident is dangerous, and steps must be taken to reduce the frequency of accidents. The 1,000 derailments represent aging American infrastructure and effective corporate lobbying to reduce or block safety regulations that would prevent these situations. The East Palestine accident was “100% preventable,” as stated by the Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Hopefully, this situation can bring a new focus on improving train infrastructure and safety.
For those in East Palestine, there is a glimmer of hope. As long as the clean-up is well-funded and managed properly, the effects of the disaster can be mitigated. The situation will improve as long as the EPA forces Norfolk to continue cleaning and spend the time and money to repair the disaster they created. Let this accident be a clear message that rail transport safety regulations must be changed to protect workers and communities.
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