East Palestine Ohio rail disaster

On 3 February 2023, a train carrying vinyl chloride (a carcinogen) and nine other hazardous chemicals caught fire and derailed near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. In order to stop the toxic chemicals from leaking into the soil (and the groundwater supply), the decision was made to set it on fire, forcing all of those toxins up into the atmosphere instead, and allowing them to spread through the air over a large area. A huge black plume of smoke – the chemicals inside being phosgene gas (used as a weapon in WW1) and hydrogen chloride – was visible from a huge distance away, and also on meteorological instruments.

Residents in the immediate vicinity of the crash site (within a 1-mile radius) were evacuated on Feb 5 (but told they were not allowed to bring their pets, who all died from the toxic air). They were then told it was safe to go home suspiciously quickly – within a couple of days – even though there were countless reports from neighbouring towns about how unsafe things clearly still were (e.g. pets dying in backyards after only having been allowed out for a wee). Residents who did go back to the town noted things like dead animals everywhere, including all the fish in local streams. They naturally becams very suspicious about official claims that the air and local water supply were totally safe. Some of the returned residents have reported ill health, like headaches and vomiting.

The railroad company responsible is Norfolk Southern, which only recently was lobbying against improved safety regulations that might’ve prevented this disaster from happening, or mitigated its impact. (Only a few weeks ago, railway workers were also calling for industrial action in response to deliberate understaffing and neglect for safety requirements on the part of their employers – and railroad companies in the US are hella profitable; Norfolk Southern’s own profits are in the tens of billions of $ each year.) Norfolk Southern offered a paltry $25,000 in compensation to the town of East Palestine – roughly $5 for each resident.

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