East Palestine is a small town of about 5,000 people along the Eastern border of Ohio. It was relatively quiet until February 3rd, 2023, when a Norfolk Southern Railway train derailed at a train station near the center of town. This train carried vinyl chloride, a toxic liquid considered to be a fire and explosion hazard. Long-term inhalation of vinyl chloride can result in anything from headaches to fatal respiratory failure, depending on when one was exposed. So, as expected the residents were evacuated. But that was, as of today, February 23rd, 2023, 20 days ago. So what has happened since?
Unfortunately, not much. Videos have gone viral of residents criticizing the response, one video even claiming that the town’s mayor changed his phone number to avoid calls about the incident. While the residents are ignored, the damage spreads further and further, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources now estimating that the toxicity has spread into 8 miles of streams around the area. Its harmful effects are beginning to show, with those streams now carrying over 3,500 dead fish. A resident, Linda Murphy, stated on the lack of communication:
“That’s what we bathe in, that’s what we drink, that’s what we cook with and that’s what I also give to my animals, so it’s a major concern and they could not reassure me the water was safe to drink. They didn’t say it wasn’t and absolutely refrained from saying that it was,”
-ABC News Cleveland
The two mile area around the derailment was deemed safe to inhabit nine days after the derailment, but this has come with scrutiny. Some residents have claimed to have seen “oily-like” substances coming from the ground, along with dead animals. Other Ohio schools, such as Bristol High School, have refused to play at East Palestine schools due to safety concerns. Residents of East Palestine refused to attend a town hall meeting with federal officials, citing fear for their safety and a distrust of the government.
The residents have moved onto legal action, forming a class action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the train. Norfolk Southern has since donated $2.5 million to the chemical testing of the area, and have been ordered by the EPA to find and clean contaminated soil.
As stated in the first paragraph, East Palestine sits directly on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, which makes it no surprise that newly elected PA Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro has stepped in. On Tuesday, February 21st, Shapiro stated that he had made a criminal referral to the EPA concerning the derailment. EPA has responded, stating:
“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and we will not hesitate to hold anyone or any company responsible for environmental crimes in our Commonwealth.”
Shapiro didn’t state anything about what the referral contains, but his taking of action is in contrast to Ohio’s governor Mike Dewine, who denied federal assistance from Biden regarding the issue. On February 22nd, former president Donald Trump visited East Palestine and met with the residents, of whom a large percentage were Republican. Whilst meeting with them, he criticized the response from the government in a speech. The CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, also visited the town to apologize to the residents, claiming that he won’t stop working with the town until everything has been confirmed to be safe and the toxicity controlled.