Tuesday, February 21, 2023

American Chernobyl


American Chernobyl

by C. A. Matthews

"A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice." --Chris Hedges

I didn’t hear about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, until the day after it occurred. Little was mentioned on our local news stations, located on the opposite side of the same state. Even then, there was just a brief account: “A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in a small town near the Pennsylvania state line.” My husband and I watched  the mainstream TV news story and didn’t think it could be too bad since no deaths or injuries were reported. Ohio has thousands of small towns. It has thousands of miles of railroad tracks crisscrossing it. We used to live in a small Ohio town with a “triangle” of railroad crossings. These things happen.

Three days later, the railroad owners, Norfolk Southern, decided to burn off the hazardous chemicals that had leaked from some of the derailed cars. These cars carried vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl. When vinyl chloride burns, it attaches itself to the water molecules in the air and creates hydrochloric acid. It then rains down on everything and everyone in its path. You might be familiar with its common name, acid rain. Burning vinyl chloride also creates phosgene, a toxic colorless gas that killed many soldiers in World War I.

Mainstream media didn't tell us about how the townspeople were harmed by the chemicals burning, but independent journalists on the ground told  a grim story. They paint a very frightening picture of how toxic chemicals are affecting the air, water, and soil. They inform us of wildlife, fish, pets, and livestock that are sick or dead. Townspeople describe on camera how their lungs felt like they were on fire, how they became nauseous and vomited or suffered from diarrhea, headaches, severe nose bleeds, difficulty breathing, and skin rashes after authorities told them there was nothing to fear from the chemicals being burned, their drinking water supply was fine, and they all could safely return to their homes

Some have described what they’ve seen in East Palestine, Ohio as an “American Chernobyl.” Nuclear radiation lasts for millennia, but hazardous wastes pollution can last just as long through many human lifetimes in the forms of cancers and gene mutations passed on from one generation to another. “They chemically nuked East Palestine,” said one observer. Yes, they really did.

The most important thing mainstream media didn’t tell us is that the derailed chemical cars set on fire weren’t a “controlled burn.” There’s no such term as a “controlled burn” according to a hazmat worker interviewed on a Youngstown area TV news station. They’re called “prescribed burns” by professionals because they know fire can never be totally controlled. No government official or agency gave Norfolk Southern permission to do a prescribed burn of the chemicals anyway.  

The railroad CEOs should have hired tanker trucks to siphon off the remaining chemicals, none of which had caught on fire after the derailment. But that would have taken time and no small amount of money hiring enough tanker trucks and hazmat workers to do the job. Norfolk Southern chose the burning method because it was the cheapest and fastest way to clean up the mess and get the train cars out of the way so the rail line could open again and generate profits.

In other words, the railroad went with the quickest, least expensive, most environmentally unfriendly to all living things method possible. Why? Because it could.

US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigeig kept quiet about the derailment incident for over a week, but told reporters, “Derailments happen every day.” He still won’t answer questions as to why the Biden Administration hasn’t reinstated air braking safety procedures that were deregulated under the Trump Administration. Two years on and the safety precautions rail workers have demanded still haven't been put into place. These are the same rail workers who where denied the right to strike and have paid sick days by Congress this past December.

Also, a very hush-hush upcoming court case could have very well played into the federal government's non-response to the train derailment:  

In the case against Norfolk Southern, the Biden administration is siding with the railroad in its conflict with a cancer-stricken former rail worker. A high court ruling for Norfolk Southern could create a national precedent limiting where workers and consumers can bring cases against corporations. From Biden DOJ Backing Norfolk Southern’s Bid To Block Lawsuits

With the Biden Administration's backing of this case to block lawsuits, the people harmed in East Palestine and elsewhere might not even be able to sue Norfolk Southern for damages. It seems like the federal government was expecting a disaster like this one to occur and wanted to protect corporations like Norfolk Southern more than seek justice for injured working class people. Never forget that.

At the end of the day, who pays the price for this unfortunate derailment and consequent “prescribed burn” of hazardous chemicals? Not the CEO of Norfolk Southern, a corporation that made record profits last year and even boosted shareholder payouts of 4,500%. Norfolk Southern also cut their rail employees by 33%, and smaller crews and less maintenance could have led to this train being derailed. But we’re supposed to feel sympathy for poor ol' Norfolk Southern, a corporation that pledged to give the entire town of East Palestine a measly $25,000, or $5 a person, for the “inconvenience” of breathing in toxic chemicals and having their water supply tainted with even more hazardous wastes from the burn.

Railroad lines are owned by private corporations in the US. That concept is difficult for people in many other countries to understand. Even in the United States, highways and bridges are generally considered public infrastructure paid for and maintained with our tax dollars, but railroad tracks are privately owned and operated. What the railroads do with the freight they haul and how they maintain their tracks are their business. It’s all a private concern of Norfolk Southern even if their preferred clean up method has put the health and safety of all life in the Ohio River watershed at risk. 

Cincinnati-area water intake has been shut off, exposing the less than truthful statement made by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine that Ohio River water is safe to drink:

The presence of chemicals from the spill in the Ohio River at any level is a worrying development. The Ohio River basin drains an area where approximately 25 million people live, and several cities lie along its course, including Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, with metro populations of 2.3 million and 1.4 million, respectively.  

It is also one of the largest tributaries of the Mississippi River. Major cities downriver from where the Ohio River empties into the lower Mississippi include Memphis, Tennessee (metro population of 1.3 million); Baton Rouge (870,000) and New Orleans (1.3 million), Louisiana. Cincinnati-area Water Districts Shut Off Intake from the Ohio River Due to Contamination from East Palestine Derailment

Capitalism says, “Privatize the profits and socialize the costs.” The costs will be "rare forms of liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), primary liver, brain and lung cancer, which are designated as solid organ tumors. However, it can also lead to leukemia and lymphomas" for the people living in East Palestine and even further downstream as toxins drain into creeks and rivers and fall onto livestock and farm fields. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates 3,500 fish have been killed so far by the contaminated runoff after the derailment. But hey! Norfolk Southern made $3.2 billion in profits this past year and are on track to make even more for its shareholders. Rich people get richer, a whole lot richer. Who really cares if millions of Rust Belters potentially have had their lives and livelihoods cut short?

If not for the dogged independent journalists, the rest of us might never have known how many of our fellow human beings have been harmed, or will be harmed, by this toxic chemical burn by Norfolk Southern. We might never have known how the chemicals traveled through the air as acid rain and then fell onto productive farmland and into the water supply for millions. We might never have known why so many cancers popped up in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Without “indie journos” interviewing the people harmed by the chemical burn, we would have never known the extent of this entirely man-made, preventable disaster, now known to be the largest of its kind in US history.

Railroad companies have one of the biggest lobbyist groups in Washington DC. Private corporations such as Norfolk Southern shouldn’t be dictating public policy to US government officials, but they do. The finger-pointing has begun and heads should roll for not changing the unsafe regulations in regard to train car maintenance, train length, and air braking, but never fear! Railroad profits will reign supreme over the public’s safety. They always do. 

Without independent journalists we’d never know why so many suffer because of capitalism’s dictate:

Privatize the profits and socialize the costs. Keep the public in the dark.

But We the People can fight back.

This story is ongoing, and here’s your assignment as a citizen journalist/activist: Keep an eye out in the mainstream media for how much (or how little) this train derailment and consequent chemical burn in East Palestine, Ohio, is mentioned. Search for stories about the environmental fallout throughout the eastern US.  If very few or only “positive” statements about how Norfolk Southern is handling the situation are made, check out who is buying commercial time on the network, program, magazine and/or website. If they’re broadcasting ads for Norfolk Southern and related concerns such as Big Oil (think diesel engines), then realize that anything these so-call news anchors are telling the public is suspect. 

Always follow the money and consider who has the most to gain or lose by the truth being told or not told. Just last night on a local TV newscast I caught a "positive" story of how "sorry" the CEO of Norfolk Southern felt about the disaster in East Palestine. Nothing mentioned about the health concerns of the public, just how sorry Mr. Moneybags felt. Mainstream media does a great job covering up for our government's lack of concern for our health and safety, doesn't it?

I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and check out indie podcasters and blogs to see what else you can learn about unfolding events. Even now class action suits are starting to form against Norfolk Southern, so keep an ear open to how the current court case blocking such lawsuits against the railroad is going. How are the people hurt directly by the toxic chemical burn fighting back? Can you help them? Can you spread their message to others? Be creative.

After this piece I’ll list article and video links on this topic and well as a couple of others. Compare and contrast what “indie journos” are saying against what the well-paid and well-coiffed “newsreaders” of the mainstream media outlets (especially TV) say on a particular topic. Ask yourself about what is being said. More importantly, ask what is being left unsaid.

Remember: “Derailments happen every day.” The next one could happen near your home. It could involve train cars full of hazardous chemicals. Would you like it if they were burned and transformed into a dark cloud of carcinogens and acid rain that rains down on you and your neighbors?

Here’s another story that doesn't makes much sense in the mainstream media, the “UFO/Spy Balloon” fiasco: https://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/what-we-know-about-the-us-air-forces Compare and contrast what you hear in the mainstream media. Have they come clean about their warmongering hype?

And last week’s TRC posting discussed how an award-winning independent journalist uncovered the who, how, what, when, where and why of the Nordstream 2 pipeline explosions: Pay For Your Own Wars, Big Oil! Compare and contrast the mainstream media coverage of the pipelines’ sabotage. What did the MSM journalists originally leave out of their stories about the NordStream? Why did they avoid investigating deeply into who had the strongest motive to take out the pipeline and lessen the competition for liquefied natural gas in Europe? Why did they continually repeat the US government’s propaganda? What was in it for them to turn a blind eye?

Citizen journalists never stop questioning!

Related Links: 

UPDATE:  Poison and Private Police: Norfolk Southern Destroys East Palestine https://odysee.com/@TheGrayzone:c/poison-and-private-police-norfolk:a

A Norfolk Southern Policy Lets Officials Order Crews To Ignore Safety Alerts https://scheerpost.com/2023/02/23/a-norfolk-southern-policy-lets-officials-order-crews-to-ignore-safety-alerts/

Cincinnati-area Water Districts Shut Off Intake from the Ohio River Due to Contamination from East Palestine Derailment  https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2023/02/20/eubz-f20.html

Organizations Across Ohio Mobilize to Provide Mutual Aid to Residents of East Palestine, Ohio https://popularresistance.org/organizations-across-ohio-mobilize-to-provide-mutual-aid-to-residents-of-east-palestine-ohio/

IN FULL DETAIL: They Won’t Tell You This About Ohio Train Derailment (Video) Caution: contains images of dead chickens. Richard Medhurst as a Brit gives us good insights into how American capitalism so readily puts corporate profits before people’s safety.  https://youtu.be/HDFXHYGF7T0
The Toxic Rail Disaster in Ohio: The Homicidal Indifference of the Ruling Class Laid Bare https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2023/02/15/zbrv-f15.html
Biden DOJ Backing Norfolk Southern’s Bid To Block Lawsuits https://www.levernews.com/bidens-doj-backing-norfolk-southern-case-to-block-lawsuits/
Rail Company Claims East Palestine Water Is Safe After Funding Sloppy Testing https://truthout.org/articles/rail-company-claims-east-palestine-water-is-safe-after-funding-sloppy-testing
Worried About Toxins in East Palestine Water?
East Palestine: The Place You Don't Want to Be! https://www.thebrockovichreport.com/p/east-palestine-the-place-you-dont
The East Palestine rail disaster and the case for workers’ power https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2023/02/18/pers-f18.html
The Chemical Disaster in East Palestine, Ohio (Video from the indie journos of Unicorn Riot) https://youtu.be/nCqu5oMxTZg
Capitalism's Solution to the Toxic Ohio Train Derailment is, "Figure it out Yourselves MF'ers" (video)  https://youtu.be/uMn9n521ono
Ohio Train Disaster: How Corruption and Greed Created Catastrophe, w/ David Sirota | SYSTEM UPDATE (video)  https://youtu.be/WjUmg5Gn6Bk

An excerpt from The East Palestine Rail Disaster and the Case for Workers’ Power https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2023/02/18/pers-f18.html

Every year, there are more than 1,000 derailments in the United States, an average of around three per day. In only the short time since the disaster in East Palestine, a derailment occurred in Houston, Texas, which led to one death, and another in Van Buren Township, Michigan, which involved the derailment of another chemical car.

The reasons for this high rate of accidents are well-known to 120,000 railroaders in the US. The locomotives, railroads and workforce have been driven into the ground by years of cost-cutting by management. Trains have been lengthened to up to three miles long, controlled by only two people. Because of Precision Scheduled Railroading and similar attendance policies, workers are often forced to operate these massive machines with only a couple of hours of sleep.

The train involved in the derailment in East Palestine, known as 32N or “32 Nasty” among train crews, was long known to be particularly dangerous.

This has not only endangered railroad workers, but the public as a whole. But the more the railroads have been driven to the brink of collapse and the more communities along the railroads are endangered, the higher the railroads’ profits go up.

The railroad industry is the most profitable industry in America. Last year, Norfolk Southern reported profits of $3.2 billion, a record for the company. Rather than investing in infrastructure, let alone improving the conditions for workers, the company has spent $18 billion over the past five years in stock buybacks and dividends, that is, handouts to investors. The same pattern is present in all the major rail companies.

* * *

A deadly toxic spill could pollute the water supply of millions. Let’s make sure the reckless company responsible for this disaster, Norfolk Southern, foots the bill for the clean up!

 Sign the petition 

Last week a toxin-filled freight train slid off the rails spilling poisonous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. But the rail operator responsible, Norfolk Southern, is already trying to dodge responsibility for cleaning up this toxic mess.

The derailed train was carrying five train-car loads of a cancer-causing chemical called vinyl chloride, which is linked to an increased risk of rare brain and liver cancers. 

Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed the chemical has seeped into the Ohio river basin - which supplies water to millions. Thousands of fish have been found dead.

Barely anyone knows that Norfolk Southern is responsible for this terrible disaster - but if we put the public spotlight on the company and demand it covers the clean up bill, the company won’t be able to walk away scot free.

Tell Norfolk Southern to foot the bill for this toxic spill

Behind the scenes, panicking Norfolk Southern execs know that they could be facing eye watering fines and massive lawsuits - which is why they’re trying to buy off residents with $1000 ‘inconvenience’ checks in return for residents waiving any future claim against the company.

These shady tactics are true to form for a company that for years has put profit over safety. Norfolk Southern has slashed jobs and lobbied against better safety measures on the railways, all the while paying out millions to shareholders. Railroad Workers United said last week’s tragedy was a disaster years in the making.

In 2012 a train crashed in Paulsboro, New Jersey spilling tens of thousands of gallons of vinyl chloride - two years later over half the residents reported health problems. Five times that amount of vinyl chloride was spilled in East Palestine.

We won’t know the true impact of this catastrophe for some time but we do know that Norfolk Southern must publicly commit to covering the full cost.

Tell Norfolk Southern to foot the bill for this toxic spill

We’ve taken on some of the biggest corporate criminals before and won. When Bangladeshi workers lost their lives at the Rana Plaza garment factory, the Ekō community held global fashion giant H&M to account.

Now let’s do it again and force this billion-dollar company to pay up.

 Sign the petition 

Thanks for all that you do,
Vicky and the team at Ekō

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  1. Now there's another derailment in Ohio, this time near Lima on the other side of the state. Mayor Pete's not going to do his job, Biden doesn't give a f##k, and is even trying to prevent people from having access to lawful action against the railroad companies in the courts. This administration, like all others preceding it, is a joke.

    1. It is a joke that the health and welfare of the people is considered less important than the profits of a corporation worth $55 billion. Human beings should be considered priceless and clearing railroad tracks of hazardous chemicals should be a task that takes the proper time, care, and money to be done professionally and safely. But "Let's just set the whole thing on fire and burn it up. What could go wrong?" says Norfolk Southern! That's capitalism for you!


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