Ohio is experiencing ‘Chernobyl-lite,’ but where is the outrage?

Ohio is experiencing ‘Chernobyl-lite,’ but where is the outrage?

On the evening of February 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. The derailment resulted in a chemical leak that officials attempted to address through a controlled chemical release. Unfortunately, this led to a massive explosion and residents were forced to evacuate. 

The explosion of hazardous materials as seen from the air in East Palestine, Ohio (Credit: @realstewpeters via Twitter). 

The train included over 20 cars carrying various hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, an extremely toxic and flammable chemical that burns at just eight degrees Fahrenheit. The disaster in East Palestine is the largest spill of vinyl chloride in the U.S.

What makes this extremely terrifying is that the burning of vinyl chloride produces hydrochloric acid which poses extreme dangers to human health, the health of wildlife, water quality and more. Hazardous materialist specialist Sil Caggiano stated, “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”

The explosion of hazardous materials as seen from a plane in East Palestine, Ohio (Credit: @realstewpeters via Twitter).

This disaster highlights another instance of corporate greed and the prioritization of profits over people. The braking system used on this train was quite literally Civil-War era technology. In 2015 the Obama administration sought to slowly begin requiring Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes that experts say could have prevented this incident from happening. In 2017, the Trump administration rolled back these regulations after successful lobbying efforts from Norfolk Southern and the railroad industry. 

The response by Norfolk and local government officials has been confusing, and a journalist was arrested while attempting to cover the story. Cattle, fish and other wildlife have been reported to be dying in places as far as 100 miles from East Palestine as the chemicals have spread through the air and water. Norfolk Southern acted in bad faith by lobbying against safety regulations, and now has a responsibility to pay for the cost of cleaning up this disaster that local residents are bearing the brunt of. 

Credit: @realstewpeters via Twitter.

Whether its industry pollution in Detroit, cutting costs in Flint to reroute the water supply, or trains using archaic braking systems, corporations are often incentivized to cut corners on safety in order to maximize profits. It is essential that strong regulations exist to curb these tendencies and protect public health. 

As the fallout from the disaster in East Palestine continues, our partners in Ohio and Pennsylvania are calling for a federal emergency to be declared so that the state and local communities can receive federal aid and support. It was announced that U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan is set to visit East Palestine tomorrow, 13 days after the derailment. 

You can add your name in support to their efforts here

For more information and resources, please visit the Ohio Environmental Council’s East Palestine Train Derailment Resources webpage. 

Join The Movement

Get exclusive, real-time updates about environmental action in Lansing — PLUS ways you can take action straight to your inbox.

Join the movement to protect the Great Lakes state

And we’ll show you two ways to help. Together, we can be a voice for change and protect Michigan’s land, air, water, public health, and democracy.