Ohio Train Derailment Causes Chemical Leak

Mushroom Cloud Over East Palestine, Ohio

Ian Schmutzler, Writer

A trail traveling through Ohio was derailed near the town of East Palestine. After fears of an explosion emerged, the company that owned the train began a controlled burn of the chemicals contained in the train cars. This resulted in a mushroom cloud forming over the town, spreading toxic chemicals into the air and water. In the aftermath of this, many are calling for greater action from the government.


11 of the train’s cars were carrying toxic substances. These cars derailed, spilling 100 thousand gallons of various toxic substances. After declaring a state of emergency, the town and all people living within 2 miles of the derailment was evacuated. After a temperature change and the failure of one of the relief valves, it was feared that an explosion could occur. Norfolk Southern, the company that owns the train, began a controlled burn of the chemicals. A mushroom cloud of chemical smoke formed over the town due to the fire.


There has been major concern over the chemicals that were released by the controlled burn. Animals as far away as 10 miles have died as a direct result of the chemicals. It can be assumed that nearby water has also been poisoned, given that over 3 thousand fish in nearby streams were killed by toxic chemicals. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has estimated that as many as 43 thousand marine animals may have been killed by the controlled burn.


The disaster has inspired significant outcry. This only became worse after Norfolk Southern issued a one thousand dollar check to each citizen for the inconvenience of the derailment. Given the situation, this amount was generally considered insufficient. After significant pressure, the company was forced to pledge $2.5 million to a “community support fund” and to cover the cost of decontaminating the area.


The disaster has inspired demand for greater regulation of transport systems. One issue of particular contention is the use of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP brakes for short. These are modern, electronic brakes that can stop a train much faster than standard air brakes and are more reliable. While these brakes had previously been required, this requirement was repealed in 2017. In a poll conducted of Tahoma students, 4 out of 5 said that these brakes should be required.


Further regulation has also been suggested, such as a return to regulation that would require freight trains to be manned by more than one person. This regulation was also repealed in 2017 due to significant lobbying, particularly from Norfolk Southern. Some have even called for the nationalization of America’s railway systems.


There has been criticism of the federal response to the disaster. Donald Trump visited the area, providing “Trump Spring Water” to the community and bought McDonalds for the first responders. He made it a point to call out the federal government, echoing statements that the response had been too slow. However, it is worth noting that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had rejected offers for further assistance from the federal government. The mayor of East Palestine, Trent Conaway, made it a point to criticize President Biden’s visit to Ukraine during the crisis.