The Stream

How can the US avoid a repeat of the Ohio rail disaster?

On Tuesday, February 21 at 19:30 GMT:
People living near the site of a toxic chemical leak in the US state of Ohio are fearful for their long-term health as they question the response and guidance of officials.

Hundreds of residents living in and around the village of East Palestine were forced to evacuate their homes after a Norfolk Southern Rail Company train carrying chemicals derailed and caught fire on February 3. Three days later, emergency crews burned off five rail tankers of vinyl chloride that they feared could explode.

Evacuated residents were given the all-clear to return home on February 8, but many have reported headaches, skin rashes and eye redness. Many are worried about the long-term effects of exposure to the toxic chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancers. Pet owners say their animals have died from poisoning.

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency says air and water sampling is within safe levels. But a letter sent from the US Environmental Protection Agency to Norfolk Southern two days after people returned to their homes said that vinyl chloride and four previously unaccounted hazardous chemicals “are known to have been and continue to be released to the air, surface soils, and surface waters”, sparking fresh alarm in the community.

Rail labour unions and environmental advocacy groups say corners are being cut in the transport of hazardous materials, and point out that the East Palestine incident is just the latest in a string of rail cargo derailments. The US Transportation Secretary says he will urge Congress to increase possible penalties for rail safety violations.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll ask how people living in East Palestine are coping and ask whether US communities living next to rail cargo routes are being kept safe.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Ben Ratner, @coolhandben
East Palestine resident and business owner

Julia Rock, @jul1arock
Reporter, The Lever

Sam Sankar, @sambhavsankar
Senior Vice President for Programs, Earthjustice