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East Palestine: The Place You Don't Want to Be!
Concerns Swell In Ohio After Chemical Fire From Train Derailment
It doesn’t matter the disaster. The lesson is always the same. Superman isn’t coming. But a community can band together, and there’s always power in numbers.
Let’s talk about what’s happening in Ohio, from evacuation orders to a state of emergency to EPA testing.
The town motto on their municipal website reads: the Place You Want to Be!
Not today. Locals are scared for their safety.
That’s all thanks to Norfolk Southern Corporation, whose train derailed at nearly 9 p.m. on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, a village of less than 5,000 people bordering Pennsylvania.
More than a week later, many questions remain. Fish in local waterways are dead. Pets and animals are dying. I’ve received hundreds of emails from families there who are scared and want help.
Residents have complained about suffering from headaches and feeling sick since the derailment, the New York Times reported.
What We Know So Far
Investigators said a broken axle caused about 50 cars to go off the track, and 20 of them were listed as carrying hazardous materials, according to an EPA statement. The derailment also caused a fire near the track.
One of the toxic materials on the cars was vinyl chloride, a toxic and flammable gas. Exposure to vinyl chloride is associated with liver cancer, brain and lung cancers, and lymphoma and leukemia, according to the National Cancer Institute. I’m going to go ahead and say that there are many other chemicals that the cars were transporting and those details will eventually emerge.
The EPA initially learned about the contents of the derailed cars verbally in order to develop a plan for air monitoring. Water testing is ongoing.
The day after the derailment, responders discovered contaminated runoff from the incident impacting two nearby streams: Sulphur Run and Leslie Run. Norfolk Southern contractors installed booms and underflow dams to restrict the flow of contaminated water.
Residents were asked to leave the area.
By Feb 6. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine DeWine and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro ordered the immediate evacuation of any remaining residents so that Norfolk Southern could conduct a controlled release of the rail cars’ chemicals to prevent an explosion.
This controlled burn of hazardous materials released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
On Feb 8. state and local officials said East Palestine residents could safely return home.
Contractors with Norfolk Southern installed a dam and water bypass at Sulphur Run to prevent further contamination of downstream waters on Feb 10, according to a timeline from the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The EPA also sent a general notice of potential liability letter to Norfolk Southern that day, listing the areas the company may be liable for damages and cleanup. This is standard procedure per CERCLA.
In that letter, the agency included more information about the chemicals in the derailed cars which included: vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and butyl acrylate.
It’s been a mess!
This story was slow to gain attention in the media, but the word is getting out there now. I’m not here to stir the pot but to do what I can to help those in need and speak up for those who are in crisis.
Yes, the EPA is monitoring the situation and the evacuation order has been lifted, but this community needs ongoing attention and resources.
Yesterday, Norfolk Southern submitted its remedial action plan to the EPA, detailing how it has responded to the crisis so far and what further actions the company plans to take. I sadly know all too well that remediation can be slow at best.
Use Your Instincts
These chemicals are serious. They are in the air and water, animals are dying. That’s a very scary situation for any resident and all the folks in neighboring communities.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! And know that this situation is unfolding and that information can change. Stay vigilant.
To all local, state and federal officials, you’ve gotta get a communication plan in place. People need clear guidelines and ongoing action plans. When those affected have questions, they need to know that they can trust you.
I’m reminded of just the most basic tools I use in the field:
Trust your instincts.
Document everything you see.
Band together as a community & demand answers.
Organize a citizens’ committee.
Keep the eyes of the nation on this situation.
Get the ppms/ppbs and ask for independent and ongoing testing.
You may hear or see different measurements as they relate to chemicals, such as parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb), or parts per trillion (ppt), as they are the most common terms used to describe small amounts of substances found in water (or air). They represent a measure of concentration.
For example, a ppm means that in a million units of water exists one unit of that chemical. Scientists use these measurements to show the amount of a toxic chemical found in a drinking water supply or body of water. It’s wild when you think about how a small dose of a chemical can inflict so much damage.
You can easily convert these numbers too, if needed.
1 ppm = 1,000 ppb = 1,000,000 ppt
Mayor Trent Conaway has called a town meeting for tomorrow night:
Wed., Feb 15 at 7 p.m.
at the East Palestine High School’s auditorium
I encourage everyone who can to attend.
Norfolk Southern is currently staffing two hotlines:
Residents who have questions about their drinking water quality can call 234-542-6474.
Residents that wish to have their private wells tested can call 330-849-3919.
Everyone on wells, please, please get your water tested now and continue to get it tested.
U.S. EPA Information Line: 215-814-2400
Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency: 330-424-7139
A Few More Thoughts
I’ve met a lot of people in my work and most of them would not identify as “environmentalists” or “activists.”
However, people’s perspectives change rapidly when they can’t drink their water or when an environmental disaster shows up at their front door. No one asks for this.
One of the most contentious talking points that I hear today is the idea that the environmental movement is a product of rich elites and that regulations hurt working-class people.
I disagree. I speak with these same people every day and I can tell you that they are not suffering because of regulations. Instead, they have been harmed by neglected infrastructure updates, corporate misdeeds, and bureaucratic hurdles.
Issues that involve our land, water, and air are bi-partisan. We’ve got to put aside our differences and work to make this world safe for everyone. PERIOD.
The American Dream is dissolving. We can all see it. Our country is cluttered with forgotten towns, and these communities need our attention. East Palestine needs our support.
We have hazardous material moving along crumbling infrastructure through a fragile ecosystem. It’s time to do better for the American people.
Let’s rally in the comments below! Tell us how you’re feeling/what you’re hearing or seeing. We’ll continue to post more about this story this week.