Ohio’s Train Derailment Is an Environmental Disaster, and We Should Have Seen It Coming
After almost two weeks of flying under the radar, the country is starting to get a bigger picture, and understanding of what happened in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd. What originally was deemed a simple train derailment, hauling hazardous chemicals, has now turned into a mitigated disaster that could threaten lives over a long period of time.
But could this have been avoided? Yeah... probably. And we really should have seen it coming. But it all nearly got covered up, too.
On February 3rd, a train derailed just outside of East Palestine, Ohio. Initially, reports said the train did have hazardous chemicals on board, but they were being handled properly, and there was no threat. But at the same time, citizens of East Palestine were being asked to leave their homes out of an abundance of caution, due to the threat of a possible explosion.
While emergency personnel worked on the train cars, they chose to breach five tankers that were filled with a known hazardous chemical to keep an explosion from happening. But the problem is, those tankers were full of vinyl chloride, and were already on fire. When crews allowed the chemical to burn off, the result sent hydrogen chloride and phosgene - both toxic gasses - into the air.
At the time, Norfolk Southern - who operates the rail company that was transporting the chemicals - said there was no danger in what they were doing, and that the chemicals spilled were contained. (They are also dealing with a train derailment in Michigan, too, that also contained hazardous chemicals.) The news in Ohio went highly unnoticed for almost a week, until social media took hold.
Social Warriors on the Case
Social media can be your best, or worst friend in cases of publicity. For Norfolk Southern, it turned out to be a disaster. People started picking up on the story, and running with it, digging deeper on the train derailment, and what was actually on board those cars. Once one person figured it out, they spread it to two people, who spread it to four, and so on, and so on.
Then, you get posts like this one from nickdrom on TikTok who break down what the chemical was, and why this happened.
@nickdrom I’ve been away from TikTok dealing with some family things, but I had to come back to talk about this massive environmental disaster. #eastpalestine #eastpalestineohio #trainderailed #trainderailment #norfolksouthern #railway #chemicalspill #explosion #pittsburgh #pennsylvania #westernpa #greenscreen ♬ Chopin Nocturne No. 2 Piano Mono - moshimo sound design
There are also worries now that the chemicals have now gotten into the water near East Palestine, which includes the major Ohio River, and provides water, and irrigation for MILLIONS of people. Again, Norfolk Southern claimed they did not let the chemicals get into the water. But social media again, might be proving them wrong.
@crimewithbobby Contaminated water in East Palestine, Ohio #breakingnews #news #eastpalestine #Ohio #watercontamination #eastpalestineohio #eastpalestinetraincrash ♬ original sound - True Crime
Communities downstream from East Palestine have started to report issues with their water as well. WSAZ in West Virginia, which has a tributary river off of the Ohio River, began issuing "Do Not Drink" orders in Fort Gay, more than a week after the derailment up stream. A recent report out of Charleston, W.Va. said the Emergency Management Division and Department of Environmental Protection are monitoring levels of butyl acrylate - also used to manufacture plastics - in the rivers and creeks in the area.
They're also keeping an eye on air quality surrounding the accident, which for now are still below the three-parts-per-million limit.
There are also stories, now, that the rail cars were already on fire before the derailment.
♬ Epic Emotional - AShamaluevMusic
Now, obviously, WHO are these people, and why should we believe them, right?
There are some unverified rumors circulating in a lot of these posts, but most of it can be clarified by searching specific topics. USA Today also offered a good Fact Check article on some of the most rampant rumors from the derailment.
But the important parts likely wouldn't have seen this major exposure, had it not been for social media specifically pushing out content. Because the only resource news outlets had to rely on, was Norfolk Southern and politicians, whom we are now finding out, downplayed and simply repeated downplayed reports of the extent of the accident.
Could this have been avoided?
In short, yes. In 2022, legislation was passed to at least temporarily stop a rail strike for employees asking for more regulations, accountability, and acceptable work conditions.
@callingoutcorruption #railroads #railroadersoftiktok #raillife #railwife #truckers #trucking #truckersoftik #transportation #shipping #infrastucture #corporategreed #shortages #inflation@uscongress @moreperfectunion @alanthefisher ♬ Bridge of Death - From “Chernobyl” TV Series Soundtrack - Hildur Guðnadóttir
But most of the demands from rail workers weren't included in the legislation, and likely contributed to shortcuts taken that could have avoided this accident from happening.
Not to mention, Ohio's infrastructure is in VERY poor shape in some areas. This video shows a railroad in Cecil, Ohio from 2017 that was still in operation for major freight.
All accounts of this particular derailment, though, conclude that a malfunction of one of the axles on a rail car is what caused the accident.
It's scary, and uncertain. And in a lot of ways, this could have been avoided if we weren't in such a big damn rush for everything, took shortcuts, and offered full transparency when something like this DOES happen. But in this case, we just have to wait as more information unfolds to find out where we go from here.