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The Toxic Rail Disaster In Ohio

Toxic black smoke floated over the town of East Palestine, Ohio, on February 6th, as local and state authorities carried out a “controlled burn” of toxic chemicals. This comes in response to the February 3rd derailment of the Norfolk Southern train carrying the chemicals, which included highly carcinogenic vinyl chloride, which subsequently caught fire. 


 


The toxic chemicals from the train cars quickly spread into the air and water, and state and federal authorities made the decision to burn the cars blocking the railway line so that trains could return to their schedules. As a result, the 4700 residents were subjected to toxic clouds of black smoke, and there have been reports of animals dropping dead in the affected area.


 


Hundreds of East Palestine’s residents have been permitted to return to their homes as of February 9th, just three days after the burn, and without the proper testing needed to verify whether the chemicals have entered the town’s water supply.


 


Vinyl chloride is known to cause cancer, even in small quantities. When burned, it breaks down into hydrogen chloride, an irritant, and phosgene, a chemical weaponised for trench warfare in World War I. 


 


According to the National Cancer Institute, exposure to the gas can lead to an "increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer," called hepatic angiosarcoma. A 2018 journal article stated those who are diagnosed have a life expectancy of just 10 months.


 


Despite the significant danger to public health and well-being, the priority of Norfolk Southern executives and government agencies has been reopening the rail line and resuming normal service.


 


In the words of hazardous materials expert Sil Caggiano, “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.” He added, “Cancer clusters could pop up, you know, well water could go bad.” Caggiano also stated that some chemicals could be present in homes and on objects, creating further contamination and health risks, unless cleaned thoroughly.





The Norfolk Southern rail company is proclaiming that it has provided over $1 million in financial aid to those residents displaced by the derailment and that it has been conducting in-home air tests and tested drinking water for possible contamination. Norfolk Southern’s reported profit in 2022 was $2.2 billion





The disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, is the latest in a string of chemical spills that have occurred for decades across the US. In 2014, the town of Flint, Michigan’s water supply was contaminated with lead, after the city’s water source was changed to the Flint River as a result of budget issues, affecting approximately 99,000 residents.


 


Also in 2014, several thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilt into the Elk River in West Virginia, where 300,000 inhabitants temporarily lost access to clean drinking water.


 


The toxic effects of the disaster will not remain limited to East Palestine but could spread " well over a 100 miles radius," according to Veronica Edmonds-Brown, an expert in urban river pollution and lecturer in aquatic ecology at the University of Hertfordshire.


 


 This is only the beginning.


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