A tragedy with catastrophic and unseen consequences occurred Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, where a freight train derailed. The train was pulling several cars filled with vinyl chloride and other harmful chemicals and 38 of 141 train cars derailed at 9 p.m. With the crash, a large dark cloud mushroomed up into the sky, looming over East Palestine’s nearly 5,000 citizens.
The chemicals spilled are known to cause cancer and are carcinogens.
The derailment occurred the same time a worker strike was taking place. Rail workers were striking in response to long hours and little to no breaks or days off in between.
Workers complained that they’re understaffed with larger, heavier trains, which is a ticking time-bomb for another disaster. However, the Biden administration made moves to dismantle the union strike. The administration has not sided with the union’s safety concerns.
Governor Mike DeWine has made claims that it is safe to reside in East Palestine, going as far as to drink a glass of tap water in East Palestine, which was recorded by Fox News.
Testing of water and air in the town has determined it safe to return, but officials told those whose homes had not been cleared to refrain from returning.
Officials advised residents to refrain from drinking tap water and to consume bottled water instead.
Residents have shared their experiences on social media. A viral video on TikTok shows a cup of coffee audibly sizzling when a coffee creamer was added. Another shows “flakes” of unknown origin and substance with an oily appearance float atop a pitcher of powdered iced tea.
There is documentation of dead fish and frogs, wildlife and oil in local waterways.
The chemical spill has seeped into the soil, destroying its capability to grow crops. Farmers are worried for their future harvests, and locals feel they will fall in jeopardy if the farms fail. This is due to the fact that local businesses depend on these farms and the entire economy of East Palestine may crash.
Overall, tensions are at an all time high. Residents feel that they cannot trust officials and feel the need to perform their own air and water tests through private companies.
They report experiencing symptoms such as smells, eye pain and mouth pain after the derailment even with a safe reading by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is atrocious that U.S. citizens cannot trust the EPA and must pay for private screenings out of pocket. They feel unheard as they continue to report symptoms and outcomes to deaf ears. Residents have had to turn to social media platforms such as TikTok to create a large enough stir to gain media attention.
It is just as dastardly that DeWine refuses to acknowledge the residents’ fears and feelings, instead insisting that it is safe to return and even arresting a journalist who reported on one of DeWine’s debriefings.
What can SUNY Plattsburgh students do?
Plattsburgh is 570 miles away from East Palestine. For perspective, New York City is 309 miles from Plattsburgh. The environmental aftermath of this disaster could possibly affect us in New York.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s states there is no reason for New Yorkers to worry, however the department is working alongside EPA.
Freight Waves wants anyone impacted by the derailment or who works for Norfolk Southern or another Class I railroad to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GoFundMe’s have been made by and for residents of East Palestine. One that currently has $55,000 worth of donations can be found here.
The Way is a local charity that has locations in Columbiana, Ohio; East Liverpool, Ohio; and East Palestine, Ohio. The Way has a webpage on how you can contribute to their organization here.
The Bright Side project is another charity, like The Way, local to Ohio and is taking donations to support East Palestine here.
Support those with friends and family in northeast Ohio. Use your voice to advocate for repayment of residents and for better handling of the ecological crisis and to prevent more in the future.
Vote for legislation and leaders who support your views to ensure that this incident does not occur again, and if it does it will be handled properly.