Last week, I mentioned that Norfolk Southern, the railway that operated the train that derailed and contaminated an Ohio town with vinyl chloride, had set up a $1 million fund for the victims of this disaster. That amount is a pittance compared to the amount the company has spent on stock buybacks and CEO pensions.
As of the time of this writing, the EPA has required Norfolk Southern to clean up the contaminated soil and water around East Palestine. This order will legally require NS to pay for the cleanup services provided by the EPA in the area. As of now, NS has increased the amount of money it will commit to the town to $6 million.
Residents of East Palestine have continued to be assured that their water is safe to drink, and mainstream news outlets have reassured Americans living in other regions of the country that no mass contamination of this town occurred. Yet the tests to prove that there is no contamination were conducted by a contractor hired by Norfolk Southern, which is a bit of a conflict of interest, to put it mildly. One of the testing companies hired to do the work has a history of falsifying data, such as for well-known disasters like Deepwater Horizon.
There is an economic reason why the railroad would want to declare the town free of contaminants so soon. They can’t run a train through a contaminated cleanup zone, but if the town is no longer under an evacuation order and is declared safe, the trains can once again run. Perhaps – and this is a wild idea – Norfolk Southern has falsely declared the region around the derailment safe so that they don’t lose any money by not being able to use the railroad.
A “clinic” has been set up for the East Palestine residents who are experiencing symptoms such as itching eyes, rashes, or vomiting. Yet this “clinic” is not actually providing any medical services. Instead, individuals who enter have the chance to talk to a few experts who assure them that their town is safe, and tell them to make an appointment with their own doctor if they are feeling unwell. Keep in mind that this is an impoverished town where people might not have health insurance at all or be able to afford medical bills even if they have insurance.
Meanwhile, Governor DeWine’s close connections with lobbyists from NS calls into question his ability to hold the railroad company responsible. His former legislative director served on NS’ Ohio lobbying firm, and NS has donated $20,000 to DeWine’s campaign and inauguration. NS’ lobbying firm worked to kill a bill that would have required crews of at least two people on all trains going through the state.
The other side of the political aisle has demonstrated its indifference as well. When asked last week why he has not yet visited East Palestine, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg mentioned dismissively that there are “thousands of derailments a year.” First of all, many of those occur in rail yards where one car derails at low speeds on a switching rail. Although it has to be reported, the incident doesn’t dump a carcinogen into an entire town’s water supply. It is unconscionable to dismiss the disaster in East Palestine as an everyday event that doesn’t deserve much attention.
It is sickening how the health concerns of local East Palestine residents continue to be dismissed, and how they are told to go to a “clinic” that will simply tell them that nothing is wrong and to see their own doctor. Given the ties of Ohio’s Governor with the railroad presiding over this disaster, it is unlikely that we will see justice for these victims.