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The most toxic plastic for human health and for the planet. Exposure could increase a person’s chance of getting lung and liver cancer.

Vinyl chloride.

Both toxic and flammable, vinyl chloride was released into the atmosphere in East Palestine, Ohio after a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed on Feb. 3.

On social media, commentators are calling it “the largest environmental disaster in history” and “Chernobyl 2.0,” referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster. They also suggest that there is more happening than what is publically being shared.

Over 15,000 pounds of soil and 1.1 million gallons of water were removed from the East Palestine area because of contamination, according to a Norfolk Southern press release. It is not yet clear how much monetary damage the derailment caused. This number will likely be millions of dollars, and that’s just a starting estimate.

Now, Norfolk Southern Railway Company is being sued in at least six class-action lawsuits, one of which involves Slippery Rock.

The class-action lawsuits

Slippery Rock is now involved in a class-action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railway Company because of its proximity to East Palestine. Andrew Erdos and David Anderson filed the suit on Feb. 9 in the northern district of Ohio, hoping to receive funding for medical monitoring of residents within a 30-mile radius.

Those involved in the six cases allege a loss of income due to evacuations, as well as exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, NBC News said in an article Saturday.

Norfolk Southern Railway is an Atlanta-based freight train company. The railway is the largest intermodal rail network in eastern North America. An intermodal rail network is essentially a method of transporting goods in shipping containers using multiple modes of transportation without directly handling the goods themselves.

The main responsibility of the freight trains is to carry goods—including hazardous chemicals—to another location, and they failed. Not only did the train not fulfill its purpose, but it also caused a horrific release of toxic chemicals in the process.

It’s no surprise that Erdos and Anderson, and residents of the area, want compensation for a disaster that allegedly was completely preventable.

You’re not taking this seriously enough

With a heavy circulation of bad news, major events can be easily forgotten or clouded with misinformation.

Ever since Feb. 3, the day of the derailment, there has been little information shared about the gravity of disaster and its effects on humans, as well as the environment. This, and the mixed results of air and water quality testing, have attributed to the distrust between the news industry, government agencies and people in the United States.

The White House did not release a statement about the Ohio train derailment until Feb. 14, 11 days afterward.

As of his statement from Feb. 24, U.S. President Joe Biden has no plans to travel to the area. Instead, he boasted about his administration being on the site of the disaster within two hours.

“You know, we were there two hours after the train went down – two hours,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and in Ohio, and so the idea that we’re not engaged is just simply not there. And initially, there was not a request for me to go out even before I was heading over to Kyiv [Ukraine], so I’m keeping very close tabs on it. We’re doing all we can.”

The Rocket staff believes government agencies are seemingly not telling the entire truth about the repercussions this will have on the planet. This is not just an incident that will go away in a few weeks when people forget about it.

Toxic materials were released; so toxic that people had to evacuate. Those toxins are now in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Not only that, but food is effected because plants and animals consume the water and air.

The hazardous chemicals also took a massive blow to local wildlife. Contaminated water wiped out more than 3,500 fish, amphibians, mollusks and aquatic insects. Weeks after the derailment, dead fish and other animals still linger as a reminder of what’s happening to the planet and those who inhabit it.

On top of all of this, former U.S. President Donald Trump visited East Palestine on Feb. 22. Seeing a political opportunity, the former president handed out Trump-branded water, campaign hats and criticized the Biden Administration.

Not only is it morally corrupt to take an environmental disaster as his political foot in the door, but Trump’s response takes away the seriousness of the situation. Yes, he said things like “You are not forgotten” and “We stand with you,” but how much of this is just for show?

Could it have been prevented?

The Ohio train derailment is not the only one that has occurred recently. A second Norfolk Southern train derailed in Michigan on Feb. 16 in Van Buren Township, which also contained hazardous materials, according to the Associated Press (AP). Though the investigation is still ongoing, officials say there were no reported injuries. No toxic chemicals were aboard the overturned section of the train, AP News said.

Reoccurring train derailments beg the question: Was this preventable?

Most signs are pointing to yes.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its initial report on the derailment, which concluded that the wreck was completely preventable. A hot axle heated plastic pellets within one of the train’s cars. This sparked the initial fire, according to Jennifer Homendy, chair of the safety board.

As the temperature got hotter, the train passed two defect detectors that did not trigger an audible alarm message because the heat threshold was not met, Homendy said. By the time the third detector recognized the temperature, it was already too late.

However, this wasn’t the only preventable aspect of the disaster.

Trump-era railway regulations caused a rollback of the supply of special brakes for trains containing toxic chemicals, investigative journalist Matthew Cunningham-Cook said in an interview with The Takeaway.

“[Pneumonic brakes are] required for trains that use nuclear waste hazards,” he said. “…The Obama administration tried to expand their use. Trump rolled that back. Biden and [U.S. Secretary of Transporation Pete] Buttigieg have not, at this point, attempted to bring back this expansion of these brakes. Every expert we talked to said that the scope of the disaster could have been significantly reduced or eliminated had these brakes been in place.”

The Ohio train was not carrying nuclear material, but it did contain vinyl chloride, which can turn into more toxic materials like hydrogen chloride.

“That’s part of the problem, is that this wasn’t even classified as a high-hazard train, because they weren’t carrying a sufficient amount of hazardous materials to meet that designation,” he said. “The main dangerous material that they were carrying was vinyl chloride, [a] critical component of creating vinyl, and it’s highly flammable, it’s highly combustible, and it’s highly toxic. When it burns, it can turn into even more toxic things like hydrogen chloride.”

Regardless of who exactly is responsible, the government’s negligent oversight led to an avoidable environmental disaster that will only worsen the state of the already dying Earth.

The government is seemingly as uninformed as the general public, which led to false promises of safety.

This, and other disasters, cannot be swept under the rug.

Visit Earth.org for plans of action like donating, voting for politics who want to make change, increasing recycling and using less single-use plastic, just to name a few. 

The time for action is now.


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