There’s just no other way to say it: the Environmental Protection Agency is lying to the people of East Palestine, Ohio. And I cannot fathom why they are doing it. What’s more, the White House waited two weeks to show up, is telling people they’re fine, and yet denying everyone in East Palestine FEMA disaster relief assistance because “it’s not a traditional disaster.”
The Washington Post headlined it, “EPA says Ohio derailment site is safe, as locals report rashes, worries.” The problem is this: the toxic chemicals released via twenty derailed cars either burned into the air or seeped into the soil and water. It’s understandable why we’re getting reports like this: “Not everyone was comforted by the EPA administrator’s assurances Thursday that their municipal water and air was safe, based on ongoing tests.”
People shouldn’t be reassured. Drinking water and air is just the first step. Those poisons are seeping into the soil, which will impact that ground, and the water table below it and can even cause vapors down the road coming out of the earth. There’s no way around it: this is an environmental disaster that poses a direct threat to the health of every person there.
The media spins it both ways.
The juxtaposition of headlines will make your head spin. Bloomberg had two headlines on its front page. First, “EPA Seeks to Calm Fears Over Toxic Chemicals in Ohio Train Derailment.” The second headline: “Ohio Train Derailment Could Bring Cancer Risk, Millions in Damage.”
The EPA is simultaneously telling people they’re fine. At the same time, anyone with an internet connection can Google the health impacts of these chemicals. The second Bloomberg piece said this:
The 150-car Norfolk Southern train was hauling about 20 railcars containing chemicals including vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Vinyl chloride, which is used to make the plastic resin known as PVC, is a carcinogen linked to cancers of the liver, brain and lungs, according to the National Cancer Institute.
They add, “It’s difficult to know exactly how much of the chemicals were burned off in the fire and how much might have leached into the ground and surrounding waterways.” In short, it’s an uncontained hazardous chemical leak that we don’t know how far or deep its spread. Yet, everything is acceptable according to the EPA.
Health hazards are apparent.
We know some damage has happened. Reports say, “The resulting spill killed 3,500 fish, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. No livestock were affected, authorities said. Still, reports circulated on social media of dead chickens and pets. There were no immediate fatalities or injuries.”
It’s more than vinyl chloride, though. We know that there were also “ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene.”
ABC News reports that “ethylhexyl acrylate, a carcinogen, can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes, and inhalation can irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.” Additionally, “isobutylene can cause dizziness and drowsiness as well, while exposure to ethylene glycol monobutyl ether can caused irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and throat, as well as hematuria, or blood in the urine, nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.”
Any clean up will take years.
All of that is a mouthful, but it’s impossible for it to all get cleaned up. For example, Graniteville, South Carolina, had a derailment that spilled 90 tons of pressurized liquid chlorine. That happened in 2005 – fifteen years later, the cleanup was ongoing with people still dealing with the fallout.
The EPA can test municipal drinking water, but we won’t know the impact on soil and groundwater for a long time. And in the meantime, risks of cancer resulting from these chemicals will still exist. Additionally, there’s no doubt that numerous lawsuits will arise from this derailment to handle all the issues people are having.
The Ohio EPA seems more in tune with this, telling people, “The Ohio EPA has said local municipal drinking water is safe, but the state Department of Health has recommended that people with private wells drink bottled water until they receive test results.” There’s no way to know where the poisons have seeped so far or how bad it will get later.
Norfolk Southern unquestionably bears the bulk of the fault here. But there’s a reason people are mad at the EPA along with state and federal responders. They’re not getting answers or the aid they need to recover. For the Biden administration, it’s yet another black mark on Pete Buttigieg’s disastrous tenure as Transportation Secretary.
And for the EPA, it’s yet another example of how this agency fails to fulfill its most basic duties. Since the EPA started creating its own contamination problems, it’s barely been able to keep up with anything else. With these mistakes, people’s health is at stake.