“Only 90 miles from Earlham College!”
On the night of February 3rd, the residents of East Palestine, Ohio encountered a disaster that no one could have been prepared for. While everyone was soundly asleep, a train derailed near East Palestine at around 9:00 pm, causing 50 cars on the train to derail and burst into flames. Eleven of those cars would later be responsible for the awful conditions and contamination that still persists today. Those 11 cars held dangerous materials utilized for plastic production; one of these materials was vinyl chloride, a Class A human carcinogen. Not only is this chemical hazardous to human health on its own, but the chemical reaction of vinyl chloride burning furiously releases other forms of dangerous chemicals into the air. Residents weren’t ordered to evacuate until two days later, on February 6th, as officials organized a “controlled release” of the vinyl chloride from the remaining cars; by controlling the release, they were able to prevent another explosion. Despite the prevention of another explosion, the air was still overwhelmed with vinyl chloride. The environmental impact does not stop at air pollution – the Ohio River, only 90 miles from Earlham College, has been shown to contain butyl acrylate, another chemical that negatively affects human health. By contaminating the river, the soil and groundwater are at risk for pollution. While the rail company, Norfolk Southern, and EPA report that the chemical levels are safe, residents are still reporting horrible side effects, even outside the one-mile radius. Residents of East Palestine have reported symptoms of eye irritation, sore throat, migraines and headaches, skin irritation, dehydration, and more. There have also been numerous reports of animals succumbing to respiratory issues as well. Railroad workers and union officials argue that this catastrophe could have been avoided. For years, workers and union officials have been demanding new contracts that would establish better working conditions as labor cuts have increased the intensity and duration of hours. As working conditions worsen, corporate malfeasance continues to diminish safety precautions. Therefore, the incident serves as a harsh example of what ignoring workers’ needs and workers’ voices can cause.