Editorial | The train derailment sets a dangerous precedent for our environment


AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, Feb. 6.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

A train carrying chemicals harmful to the environment such as vinyl chloride derailed in an Ohio town on the border of Pennsylvania last week. Thousands of residents in the town, East Palestine, had to evacuate as the burn created a dangerous plume of smoke. However, the residents returned a mere five days later — despite warnings that the chemicals are still in the air and reports of dying animals in the area. 

The lack of adequate response to such an environmental travesty by the government sets a dangerous precedent. As man-made climate change continues to ravage our planet, our government needs to set aside corporate interests and actually care about the residents who are affected by environmental disasters. 

The governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania ordered that residents within a two-mile radius surrounding East Palestine evacuate last week, and many didn’t know when they could return. Experts are worried that the chemicals released in the air after the derailment could have long-term effects on people and the environment. 

The water supply in East Palestine is supposedly uncontaminated, but the Environmental Protection Agency still isn’t sure if the groundwater is uncontaminated. The agency also released a new list of chemicals still in the area’s water source, yet people are still allowed back in the area. This is not an adequate explanation for something that could affect the health of residents in the region for a long time.

While they evacuated residences near the explosion, they only screened the air for vinyl chloride in 290 houses, while another 181 homes are waiting to be screened as of Sunday. The chemicals released from the derailment include vinyl chloride and PVC — materials used to make plastic. They have been linked to rare forms of cancer and disruption of the endocrine system. 

The government and the EPA have hardly done the bare minimum to keep residents safe — and not just the human ones. Chickens and foxes have unexpectedly died in the days since the derailment, and their owners have rightfully been asking questions. Evacuation is disruptive and not everyone is able to evacuate, especially animals.

While the train derailment is an extreme example of an environmental disaster, weak government response regarding the environment is a looming issue. Just this past weekend, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued a boil water advisory in South Oakland due to water pressure loss. We shouldn’t have to live day to day wondering whether or not the environment is safe — and if our government will actually respond swiftly to citizen concerns surrounding it.