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
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
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.
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?
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!
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
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.
|* * *
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for all that you do,
Norfolk Southern is giving $25,000 to an Ohio town where it caused a life-or-death evacuation
Quartz. 9th February, 2023
Rail Workers Tried to Warn Us the Ohio Train Derailment Would Happen
New Republic. 8th February, 2023
Seen on Twitter:
Probably the best video about what happened in Pennsylvania/Ohio and it’s pretty mind blowing. pic.twitter.com/VbG0kzplRs— Erin Elizabeth Health Nut News 🙌 (@unhealthytruth) February 13, 2023
Well, Joe bragged a lot about the infrastructure bill that he signed in 2021. Apparently, the bill did nothing for our rail infrastructure.— NaPaValley (@NaPaValley32) February 19, 2023
BREAKING: The @EPA claim that water in Ohio is "safe" to drink is based on only a few tainted lab samples funded by the very rail company that caused the disaster. The EPA apparently never tested the water.— Steven Donziger (@SDonziger) February 20, 2023
Why does the polluter get to do the testing? ⬇️https://t.co/dMn30XPGxm pic.twitter.com/QnssXOLyMK