Ohio Train Derailment: Accountability

Lina B.

Date published: Tue, 21 February 23

The state of Ohio is at the center of an environmental disaster. In East Palestine, Ohio, a train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed and released toxic chemicals. Thirty-eight train cars derailed and twelve others were caught in a fire. Five of the cars contained vinyl chloride, a gas used to make plastic. 

The Norfolk Southern Railway Company conducted a “controlled burn” on February 6, three days after the derailment. The train cars contained other hazardous materials: butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene. Residents were ordered to evacuate as air and water samples were analyzed. The wreckage burned for many days, which threatened a widespread explosion. Since the derailment, residents have reported that they have headaches, nausea, burning eyes, and sore throats.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman tweeted that 1 million pounds of vinyl chloride were on the train, and that the EPA confirmed the vinyl chloride has entered the Ohio River basin. 

CBS reports that vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen. The gas is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer, brain and lung cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. CBS says, “According to a 2006 publication by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the substance breaks down in the air within a few days, forming other chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide.” You can read more about the deadly chemicals and hazardous materials in this article by CBS

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has vowed to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the derailment. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has further said they will hold Norfolk Southern accountable for their role in the derailment. 

Although Norfolk Southern is supposed to be held accountable for the derailment, officials and representatives from the company skipped a town hall meeting, saying that they, as the company, were concerned for the safety of its residents. 

Although trying to understand the measures being taken, residents have said that they are unable to get clear answers from officials regarding the safety of East Palestine. Officials and various agencies have unclear directions – some are claiming that local water sources are safe while others are directing residents to drink bottled water. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, around 3,500 fish have died off in nearby creeks. Residents have reported sick pets or dying chickens. Others are reporting psychological trauma as a result of the derailment.

Residents further reported that a chemical odor has lingered on for days after the derailment. Other residents have forced officials to conduct tests at their homes, after officials stated that the toxicology reports are clear. These residents found that their homes were actually not safe. 

“Had I not used my voice, had I not thrown a fit, I would be sitting in that house right now, when they told me that it was safe,” said Jami Cozza. Cozzo had insisted that the railroad company run soil and water tests. She is worried that not all residents are receiving the proper level of testing, and that she is concerned for the families and children who live in East Palestine. 

It is utterly important to pay attention to accidents like the one in East Palestine, Ohio. Companies like Norfolk Southern must be held accountable for the harm that has been caused to residents in the Ohio River basin. Raise your voice to the White House and state authorities to repair the damages caused by the derailment, and to make sure that these harmful accidents do not happen again. Not only are they increasingly harmful for residents, but the environment, wildlife, and ecosystem will suffer by these destructive accidents.