April 25, 2024


Could The Toxic Train Disaster Have Been Prevented? 

The recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the release of toxic chemicals and a controlled burn of the substances, has garnered significant attention and become a highly politicized issue in the United States.  

What is Going on in Ohio? 

What started off as a regular February evening turned into weeks of chaos for the community of East Palestine. On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railroad train carrying 50 cars on its way to Pennsylvania experienced a derailment, leading to a hazardous spillage of a deadly combination of chemicals such as vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride. Despite assurances from state and federal officials that dangerous levels of chemicals have not been detected in the air or municipal water, the incident has left many residents worried about potential long-term health consequences as surrounding plants and animals are dying. There is a need for a comprehensive investigation to fully understand the implications of the derailment, which may take more time to conduct. Unfortunately, the residents’ attempts to come to terms with what happened have been complicated by political controversies and misinformation.  

Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, announced last month that the state has taken legal action against Norfolk Southern, the railway company responsible for the recent fiery train derailment on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. The lawsuit aims to hold the company accountable for the environmental damage caused by the incident and to ensure that they pay for ongoing groundwater and soil monitoring, as well as economic losses in the affected areas. Yost emphasized that the consequences of this accident will continue to impact Ohio for years to come. Although no injuries were reported, the evacuation of half of East Palestine’s residents, as well as concerns over the presence of toxic chemicals in the air and water, have left a lasting impact on the community. 

Community’s Main Concerns 

Experts have expressed concern that the derailment of a train near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on may have put the residents of East Palestine at risk of serious health complications, including cancer. The hazardous materials on board, including vinyl chloride – a known carcinogen – were subjected to a controlled burn three days after the incident, which could have contaminated the surrounding air, soil, and water. According to Dr. Jacqueline Moline, the burning of vinyl chloride can produce hydrochloride acid and phosgene, a gas that has been used as a weapon in warfare. The presence of phosgene may also explain the recent illnesses and deaths of animals in the area, as it can cause breathing difficulties and liver cancer in the long term. 

According to Kevin Crist, Ohio University’s Air Quality Center director, the chemical in question not only poses a health risk for the liver but can also lead to cancer in other vital organs of the body. With these potential health risks just from inhaling the chemical, questions arise over the safety of the food that is grown in that area that has been contaminated by chemicals from the water and rain. The main crops harvested in Ohio are grain, corn, and soybeans. Will the food made from these crops be affected by the chemicals, potentially revealing itself in cancer throughout the population in the years to come? 

Was This Preventable? 

When a closer look was taken, it became apparent that this disaster could have been prevented by the proper safety regulations being in place. “Had this been detected earlier, that derailment may not have occurred”, said National Telecommunications Safety Panel Chair Jennifer Homendy. According to The New York Times, the train derailment was caused by a broken rail that had been inspected and repaired just days before. Upon conducting a thorough investigation of the company, it was discovered that Norfolk Southern has experienced a significant number of derailments and hazardous material releases per year on average, as indicated by the Federal Railroad Administration’s 10-year safety summary. According to a report by the Pennsylvania Capital Star, the average number of derailments was an alarming 163.6, with an average of 2.9 hazardous material releases per year. 

The Ohio attorney general has sued Norfolk Southern, the rail company, for negligence and environmental violations. The lawsuit claims that the derailment could have been avoided if Norfolk Southern had followed proper safety protocols and standards. This is to ensure that this does not continue happening in the future. The legal action taken by Ohio’s attorney general against Norfolk Southern, the railway company responsible for the derailment, is an important step towards holding them accountable for the environmental damage caused by the incident. It is crucial that the investigation into the incident continues until we have a complete understanding of the implications and potential risks associated with the release of these toxic chemicals. We must ensure that safety regulations are in place and enforced to prevent similar incidents from happening again in the future. Ultimately, the safety and well-being of our communities must remain a top priority for all stakeholders involved. 

Where Do We Go From Here? 

The recent toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio has raised serious concerns about the safety of our transportation system and the potential long-term health consequences for the affected community. This incident highlights the need for more comprehensive safety protocols and regulations to be in place to ensure the safety of both the communities and the environment.