The East Palestine Disaster

Hazardous Train Derails Causing Chemical Explosion


The Backstory

On February 3, 38 Norfolk Southern train cars derailed in East Palestine Ohio. Of these 38 cars, 11 of them were reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have been carrying potentially hazardous material. In the weeks following the wreck residents from the surrounding area complained about various ailments. Many are concerned about the long-term impacts of a large number of chemicals that were released during the wreck. In response to these concerns, the government has repeatedly informed the residents that testing has been done and the results have shown no dangerous levels of chemicals in the local water source or air. Some experts believe it will take a more thorough investigation to truly understand the impact of the crash. Whatever the case, residents were worried and demanded that the EPA looked further into the situation.


Political Turmoil

In the aftermath of the train wreck and subsequent news stories, politicians from both parties have tried to use the incident for political gain. The democrats argue that the train crash is a result of Trump’s administration removing regulations put in by Obama’s administration to prevent such accidents. For the Republican party, the accident is just a small piece of what they believe is the bigger problem. East Palestine is just one of the thousands of small towns littered throughout the country that feels overwhelmed by megacorporations and a faraway government. Donald J. Trump is one of the most well-known names taking advantage of the political opportunity. He was seen handing out water and campaign hats to residents while assuring them that, “You are not forgotten.” Pete Buttigieg also arrived at the scene and applauded the civilians for their ability to stick together and also made remarks about politicians who had tried to use the situation to their edge.


Dangers of the Train Derailment

The initial danger that accompanied the train derailment was the chemical compounds that could have possibly been released into the environment. A list of compounds included: Butyl Acrylate, Ethylhexyl acrylate, Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and Vinyl chloride. The chemical compound of significant concern was Vinyl Chloride as it can cause a rare form of liver cancer when someone is exposed to it over a long period of time. There was a bigger problem however and that included the risk that the 5 cars containing the Vinyl chloride were going to explode.

This resulted in field experts demonstrating a controlled release of the Vinyl Chloride as they believed the consequences of an explosion would greatly outweigh the small price to pay for the chemicals released into the air. The massive black cloud of smoke that was seen emerging from the crash was identified as a controlled burn. State officials have continued to deny that any amounts of harmful chemicals have been detected in the air or water. Many experts however still believe further tests are needed to understand the severity of the situation especially long-term.


Are People Sick?

Although health agencies have continued with their statement that dangerous amounts of chemicals are not inhabiting the air or water sources, residents have reported a variety of ailments. Common complaints include headaches, coughs, rashes, and other similar symptoms. A few days after the derailment a resident was reported having difficulty breathing and coughing up gray mucus. The doctors diagnosed him with acute bronchitis due to chemical fumes.

Although this is only one situation, this is why residents are scared. Many feel as though health officials aren’t telling them the entire truth, which could be a result of the lingering odors. Chemical smells such as burning plastic and nail polish have lingered in the air for weeks. It is important to remember that smell does not indicate toxicity, however, this has not stopped residents from smelling their own water for chemical traces.


Dead Animals

Almost a month after the crash and nearly 44,000 animals have died in the reported crash area since. Officials estimate that somewhere near, 38,000 of the dead animals are minnows and the other 6,000 are species such as amphibians, crayfish, and larger animals. So far, the deaths have been reported to have occurred within a 5-mile radius and have not spread further. The chemicals were contained quickly enough that health officials believe none were able to escape further along waterways. Due to the area being filled with large-scale farming operations, farmers were quick to spread their concerns on the subject matter. The Ohio Department of Agriculture assured residents that there is nothing to worry about in regard to livestock concerns and that so far there have been no land mammal deaths as a result of the chemical spill. However, the town residents are not happy as local farmers have reported their animals becoming sick and dying.


Distrust Among Residents

The biggest problem for residents in regard to the aftermath of the chemical spill is the lack of clear answers about the possible future health risks. After returning to the town once health officials declared it was safe to return, residents noticed they were experiencing unique sicknesses, such as nosebleeds and rashes. The Ohio Department of Health set up a clinic for residents in a local church. Citizens are able to receive health checks however, the doctors were not able to give a clear answer on the long-term dangers. Some residents believe no one will ever give them the truth and this has left them feeling helpless. Many have resorted to doing their own research online instead of listening to the health officials.


Future Outlook

Many residents question whether their lives in East Palestine will ever return to normal. For some, there is a safety concern. For others, there is a complete lack of trust in the American Government. In the best-case scenario, the explosive disaster blows over and residents stay strong by sticking with one another. Worst case scenario years down the road East Palestine is looked at in a similar light to Love Canal New York. Either way, one thing is for certain, industrial pollution is a major environmental and health problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.