February 16, 2023

Train Derailment

“Hundreds of irate residents of the Ohio town where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals packed into a high school gym on Wednesday, seeking answers to what health dangers they face…

“The Norfolk Southern Railroad-operated train's derailment caused a fire that sent a cloud of smoke over East Palestine. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate. After railroad crews drained and burned off a toxic chemical from five tanker cars, residents were allowed to return to their homes on Feb. 8…

“Much remains unknown of the dangers posed to residents by the toxins that spilled, experts said. Many in the area have complained of headaches and irritated eyes, and noted that chickens, fish and other wildlife have died off. Despite that, state health officials have insisted to residents that East Palestine is a safe place to be.” Reuters

Many on both sides criticize the federal response to the incident:

“The question, of course, is what kind of effect these chemicals can have on humans if they’re causing sudden illnesses, burns, and even paralysis in animals. But don’t bother trying to get an answer from government officials at either the local or federal level or you might find yourself charged with trespassing and resisting arrest, as NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was after he concluded a live report from a press conference on the government’s cleanup efforts last week. (The charges against Lambert have since been dropped.)…

“We’re dealing with what could be one of the worst environmental disasters in decades. Yet the EPA has denied that residents have reason to be concerned about their drinking water or that the gases in the air could cause problems beyond making the nearby area smell bad… Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg waited 10 days even to address the matter.”

Kaylee McGhee White, Washington Examiner

The federal government could have paid for medical treatment for those affected and their pets, rather than leaving them on the hook for large medical bills or forcing them to put beloved animals to sleep. It could have organized emergency workers to collect, clean, and transport people’s property, so residents are not forced into the danger of having to return and get that property themselves…

“It could reinstate Obama-era railroad regulations and move to beef up safety in the industry so something like this doesn’t happen again. It could send the president to an evacuation zone to reassure scared, confused locals and give them a shoulder to cry on, something we’re told over and over is one of the president’s strengths. I just came up with this list off the top of my head. Imagine what an entire bureaucracy of federal workers well versed in emergency response could come up with.”

Branko Marcetic, Jacobin

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