One of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s recent history is taking place in Ohio right now with not nearly enough attention being paid to it. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, however, is fighting to raise awareness of the danger it poses.
The disaster began ten days ago on February 3rd when a freight train transporting a payload including about 20 cars carrying hazardous chemicals derailed near the small village of East Palestine, in rural eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania border.
More than 2,000 residents were quickly evacuated due to the concerns over the spillage of the train’s toxic cargo of vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether — all of which were released into the town’s air, soil, and water in the aftermath of the derailment.
While that alone would have been enough to characterize the event as a major ecological catastrophe, people are now questioning whether the attempts to clean up the derailment may have made things even worse.
Workers dug a trench into which they drained five still-unbreached tanker cars filled with vinyl chloride and then conducted a controlled detonation to avoid an unintentional explosion.
The detonation sent huge billowing clouds of noxious fumes into East Palestine’s skies, with emissions that included phosgene gas, a substance used as a chemical weapon in World War I.
State and federal agencies have been coordinating with Norfolk Southern, the railroad that ran the derailed train, in monitoring the air, soil, and water quality near the site of the disaster.
While the regulators claim that the air and water quality remain safe in surrounding communities, local residents have been reporting headaches and other ill effects since the derailment.
A resident in a town about ten miles from the scene told local TV station WKBN-27 that her six chickens suddenly keeled over after the detonation of the vinyl chloride, which is associated with higher risks of liver cancer, hepatic angiosarcoma, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia,
“My video camera footage shows my chickens were perfectly fine before they started this burn, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died,” Amanda Breshears related.
Despite the Environmental Protection Agency sending a legal notice to the operator of the train detailing environmental damage, officials allowed local residents to return to their homes after the evacuation despite possible continued contamination.
The move inspired Erin Brockovich — known for her fight against Pacific Gas & Electric for causing groundwater contamination in California that was memorialized in a self-titled movie starring Julia Roberts — to post a tweet condemning state and federal officials for putting the local population in danger.
This is why people don't trust government.
You cannot tell people that there has been and continues to be hazardous pollutants contaminating the environment while at the same time saying "all is well."
People aren't stupid. @GovMikeDeWine @EPA https://t.co/eSfa9JPKzH
— Erin Brockovich (@ErinBrockovich) February 13, 2023
With the environmental damage potentially affecting neighboring states as well, even Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine is questioning the wisdom of transporting hazardous chemicals via America’s increasingly fragile rail network.
“It raises all kinds of questions,” DeWine said on Fox News‘ Fox & Friends. “We’ve seen it up close and personal the last few days. This is a big, big deal.”
With Erin Brokovich raising awareness, hopefully every one will realize that now.
Original reporting by Louise Boyle at The Independent.
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