Is the environmental disaster in the US the result of optimization?

Interestingly, in 2022, the movie “White Noise” was released in the US. Еhe plot of the movie is a train wreck in Ohio and the release of a cloud of toxic chemicals as a result of this wreck

Earlier this week, the US media began to receive information about chemical spills and combustion after a train derailed in Ohio, near the village of East Palestine, where fewer than 5,000 people live. Many in the US call it a second Chernobyl disaster in scale. Let’s try to understand what happened and the scale of the problem.

What happened?

On February 3 at about 8:55 p.m. local time, a train carrying, among other things, toxic chemicals (vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) crashed on the outskirts of the village of East Palestine, located on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Thirty-eight cars derailed, of which 11 contained various toxic chemicals. Some of the chemicals spilled and caught fire.

On February 5, one of the tanks with vinyl chloride began to get hot, and the next day the authorities decided to punch holes in the cars with chemicals, let the chemicals flow out, and then burn them. People living less than a mile from the crash site were evacuated before the operation began.

The cloud of toxic substances that rose from the combustion was visible even from space. Locals started talking about a chemical Chernobyl.

The derailed freight train belonged to the Norfolk Southern railroad. The train was traveling from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania and consisted of three locomotives, nine empty cars and 141 loaded cars. The train was slightly under three kilometers long and the weight of the entire train was approximately 18,000 tons.

A small part of the train derailed – 38 carriages. As a result of these cars derailed there was a fire which damaged 12 more cars. In total there were 20 cars with hazardous chemicals in the train, 11 of them derailed. Five tank cars with vinyl chloride were not derailed, but one had a faulty safety valve. On February 5, the temperature in one of the vinyl chloride tanks began to rise, which could have caused the tank to explode and scatter fragments over a large distance.

On February 6, a decision was made to vent the chemicals and set them on fire to prevent the tank from exploding. Ohio and Pennsylvania conducted a mandatory evacuation of all residents living less than a mile from the accident site (just over two thousand people, about half the residents of East Palestine). Norfolk Southern emergency crews then conducted a controlled release of chemicals and burned the contents of five vinyl chloride tanks. Small shaped charges were used to pierce the walls of the tanks, and the vinyl chloride flowed into a trench where it was ignited by flares.

The official consequences of the fire

The fire created black clouds over the area and released phosgene (a chemical warfare agent) and hydrogen chloride ( when combined with water vapor, it produces hydrochloric acid rain) into the air. Officials said air monitoring on February 7-8 found an increase in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air below control levels and an increase in particulate matter, probably due to soot.

On February 9, East Palestine residents were allowed to return to their homes because the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that air quality inside and outside the evacuation zone met standards. Although toxic substances were found at the crash site, they were not detected outside the area. In a February 8 analysis report, the Ohio EPA stated that vinyl chloride, benzene, some chlorinated organic compounds and other volatile organic compounds were not detected in the water and the water was drinkable.

So the official version is that nothing happened: there is nothing in the water, the combustion products have dissipated, there is nothing in the soil, everything is fine.

What’s really going on?

Local residents report various incidents involving animals. One family in East Palestine reported that a cat got sick after a chemical fire and died. As it later turned out, due to congestive heart failure. The family did not say whether the cat was walking outside after the accident, but believes the cat was poisoned by vinyl chloride. One woman, who lives 10 miles from the burning site, reported the deaths of all her chickens on February 7. The owner of a fox farm near East Palestine reported the deaths of several foxes and that the others appear to be sick and not eating. There are unconfirmed reports of other pet deaths.

However, the case may not be limited to animals. Sill Caggiano, an expert on hazardous chemicals gave an interview to a number of TV channels where he stated, “We literally blew up the town with chemicals in order to open the railroad.” He also advised local residents to get “medical examinations” and document any health problems that may arise in the future. He also said that an explosion of cancer cases in East Palestine is to be expected.

Neil Donahue, a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon University, expressed concern about the potential generation of dioxins from burning vinyl chloride. Recall that the most famous dioxin poisoning in history was the use of “Agent Orange” by Americans in Vietnam. Even American soldiers who were exposed to dioxins for a short time had problems giving birth to healthy children and their own health. And in Vietnam, giving birth to ugly babies after the war became the sad norm. So dioxin poisoning is at least a few decades and very severe consequences.

The authorities’ statement about water safety is also questionable: social networks are full of clips in which people throw rocks into streams or run a stick along the bottom and rainbow spots appear on the surface, which means that some chemical substances rise to the surface from the bottom and give a thin film on the water surface, from which no one is going to clean streams. In one video, an East Palestine resident boils what he calls clean water, and dense white foam gathers near the edge of the pot. If the pot had been cleanly washed before boiling, there should be no such phenomenon.

The streams around East Palestine all flow into the Ohio River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi. If the pollution proves to be severe, millions of US residents could be affected.

We should note that the quality of water, air, and soil in the affected city is checked by a contractor hired by the railroad. Apparently, the railroad is not paying for the contaminants to be found.

That contractor, the Center for Environmental Toxicology and Hygiene (CTEH), has a proven track record of minimizing the effects of environmental disasters to meet the needs of its corporate employers. This Arkansas-based company is known for conducting toxicological monitoring in the oil and gas industry following health and safety incidents.

After Hurricane Katrina flooded a city in Louisiana with a million gallons of oil in 2005 and a flood of toxic coal ash choked central Tennessee in 2008, CTEH conducted tests and claimed all was well. In each of these cases, it was claimed that the toxicology firm was providing the data its employers wanted, while falsely assuring the public that it was protected from harm.

This company’s work for British Petroleum after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, for example, prompted comparisons to the “fox guarding the henhouse” by the New York Times and accusations of “conflict of interest” by Democrats in Congress.

To summarize, some chemical spills are occurring, but how big they are and will affect the Ohio River and beyond is impossible to predict, because the company that should be assessing this sees no problem at all. On the other hand, note that there is no confirmation, even from chicken and fox owners, of harm to animals hundreds of miles away. Perhaps not yet.

In and around the town of East Palestine itself, dioxin poisoning of soil and water and severe consequences as a result are possible, but so far this is only a possibility, no confirmation. As for the air, even warfare poisons disperse quickly in the air, so once the source of the contamination is cleaned up, the air will not be hazardous.

Who is to blame?

Officially, the root cause of the accident has not yet been named. However, at a February 5 press conference, the National Transportation Safety Board shared what it believes caused the train to derail. A member of that council said there was video showing something burning under one of the cars several miles before the derailment. The cause of the fire was said to be a mechanical problem on one of the axles of the first derailed car – an overheated hub bearing. The overheating led to a fire, which later caused the car to derail.

Bob Hagan retired in 2021 after 50 years in the railroad industry. He told reporters that the US has detectors along the railroads that can pick up overheating wheels and warn the train crew to stop the train. It is known that the train passed through one of these detectors shortly before the accident and the driver even requested permission to make an emergency stop, but the train was not stopped in time.

Hagan said that in 50 years of service he seems to have received only 1 warning about overheating that caused him to have to stop the train. He explained that previously trains of 100 cars were considered large and the train was about 1.5 km long, but now trains are made 1.5-2 times longer, and the driver can’t see the whole train at the turn and make sure nothing is on fire.

The Railroad Workers United union published an appeal stating, “The hallmarks of modern railroading are drastic cuts in both maintenance and operating personnel, poor customer service, deferred maintenance of rolling stock and infrastructure, long working hours and chronic fatigue, limited on-the-job training and high employee turnover.” That is, untimely maintenance of the train could have contributed to the train wreck. Which was, according to the union, the result of “optimization.

The need for short-term profits, the so-called ‘cult of the operating factor’ … made cutting costs, employees, procedures and resources a top priority. In this case, Norfolk Southern and other manufacturers have eliminated many of the critical mechanical points and locations needed to guarantee protection against such failures,” the union said.

And US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigic pretended he didn’t know all this, or really didn’t, and said the Trump government was to blame for the disaster because during his tenure the US Department of Transportation eliminated requirements for electronically controlled brakes on dangerous goods railcars. On the one hand, it is not known whether the car that caused the accident was a dangerous freight car, i.e. whether it could have affected it at least theoretically, and on the other hand, Buttigic did not explain why the Department of Transportation never returned the requirement in two years, if it is so important.


Interestingly, in 2022, the movie “White Noise” was released in the US. Еhe plot of the movie is a train wreck in Ohio and the release of a cloud of toxic chemicals as a result of this wreck

In conclusion, a few tanks of chemicals is a lot for a small town, but not so much even for a county, much less a state. So talk of the scale of the disaster as a problem for much of the US population seems exaggerated, though for East Palestine residents the consequences could be most unpleasant.

Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency

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