Poisons, People and the Environment
Politics and Society
Trains in USA
© Brooklyn Muse
The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, 2023, has left a huge environmental disaster for the community and surrounding areas. The Norfolk Southern freight train derailed and left the town enveloped in toxic fumes permeating the air, soil, and water. “I don’t feel safe, because I don’t know what the future holds for my town,” said lifelong East Palestine resident Jessica Conard during a Wednesday evening CNN town hall. Residents are angry and frustrated with the lack of answers and actions from both state and federal officials. Safety first does not seem to be at the forefront of anyone’s mind aside from the inhabitants of this small town. According to a 2020 census East Palestine Ohio is noted to be a village in northeastern Columbiana Ohio with a population of approximately 4, 761. It is about 3.15 square miles or (8.16 km2) in area.
Trains have been crossing America for decades. At the current time, hundreds trek across the United States with lethal chemicals in as many as 150 freight train cars at one time. They rumble seamlessly through towns and villages with poison hidden within. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on February 10, 2023, sent a letter to Norfolk Southern Railway Company. This correspondence reported five toxic chemicals found in the air, soil, or water surrounding the crash site. They are currently- vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol, isobutylene, and ethylhexyl acrylate.
Some of the freight train cars carrying the vinyl chloride were not breached during the crash. In an abundance of caution, since they were at risk of exploding, crews released and burned their contents on Feb. 6, creating a massive smoke plume above the town for several hours.
Although a town-wide clean-up is underway with waters, wells, streams, soil, and air being tested inhabitants are feeling frustrated, angry, and ill with the feedback and repercussions of the train disaster. Both President Joe Biden and Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg are being slammed through the press for their lack of immediate response to this incredible environmental disaster. Many believe that President Biden was more concerned with giving billions of aid to wartime Kyiv in Ukraine and visiting that part of the globe rather than aiding Americans in their time of need. Although Norfolk Southern, the transportation provider, has been forced to pay for all cleanup and governmental costs by President Biden many feel this is just not enough. Buttigieg is set to report to the area this week when the release of the causes of the derailment ( presently thought to be mechanical in nature) are reported to The National Transportation Safety Board. In contrast, Florida Senator Mark Rubio’s response in relation to Buttigieg was- “He is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future & needs to be fired”.
Town meetings indicate the rage of Ohio residents. The government disaster response and the federal, state, and local complexities add to the horror of the situation at hand.
Former President Donald Trump traveled and spoke to residents of Ohio this week. He would not answer the question about his role in weakening safety standards after he repealed an Obama administration rule requiring freight railroads to employ electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on certain trains hauling hazardous and flammable cargo. To clarify, this wouldn’t have stopped the East Palestine disaster because the train that derailed did not have sufficient cars of such a type that would have triggered the rule had it still been in force. However, critics have stated that Trump’s dismissal of such rules and his elimination of regulations across the board made railroads and Americans less safe.
The political forums are brewing intensely on both sides as United States citizens await concrete answers and help from their government. Firms across the nation pay lobbyists millions of dollars to ease safety restrictions and staffing to maximize profits. They are even known to reward shareholders while compromising on safety.
At the present time, hope emerges in Washington DC where Conservative Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and progressive Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are both demanding reforms. The sign of the times is to watch and see if working across the aisle for the greater good will actually become a reality.