An Ohio Train and a Catastrophe: What We Really Know About America's "Chemical Chernobyl"

2023-02-15 15:02:29 By : Ms. dongdg zheng

Receive an email a day with our articles:On Friday, February 3, a Norfolk Southern train, one of the largest rail operators in the United States, derailed and exploded near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line.More than 50 cars, half the length of the train, were destroyed creating a huge fire.And yet, the problem is not that.The problem, according to Norfolk Southern itself, is that a fifth of the wagons were carrying hazardous materials."Chernobyl".Despite the environmental severity of the incident and the fact that it was covered by the media at the time, the accident has gone largely unnoticed.Until on Wednesday, February 8, a journalist, Evan Lambert, was arrested while investigating the scope of the catastrophe and legitimate doubts (and conspiracy theories) took over the matter.Are we really facing a "chemical Chernobyl"?Why is there so little information on the matter?What do we know about what exactly has happened in Ohio?"A mangled, charred mass of burning wagons."With those words the Associated Press defined it.However, the photos that have been released from the outskirts of East Palestine, the town (of about 5,000 people) where the events took place are terrible.Despite them, the vicinity of the road was not evacuated until Sunday afternoon.The governor was not very conciliatory: "There is a possibility of a catastrophic failure of the tanker that could cause an explosion with deadly shrapnel within a mile radius."The apparent reason is the firefighting teams were not being able to control the fire and it began to approach 14 tank wagons full of vinyl chloride.14 miles from my house, in East Palestine Ohio.Norfolk Southern assures us that the vinyl chloride spilling from the tanks of their derailed train and burning and turning into hydrogen chloride as it rises into the atmosphere and mixes with water vapor and turns into ...... chloride?Although it is not well known, it is one of the chemical substances used in the manufacture of PVC (which, in fact, is a polymerization of that).The problem is that, unlike its plastic derivative, vinyl chloride is flammable, toxic, and carcinogenic (at least to the brain, lungs, blood, and liver).Having 14 containers of this substance on fire was a time bomb.The problem is that there was no way to get him out of there.Vinyl chloride is a tremendously volatile liquid, and as the experts quickly explained, it wasn't even safe to transfer to other tanks.So the authorities decided to burn it in a controlled way.It was the only viable idea, but it had consequences: the most obvious is that it was going to produce a cloud of relatively toxic smoke and intense acid rain throughout the region.And meanwhile... the authorities were trying to solve the vinyl chloride problem, the train was carrying many more dangerous substances that were de facto being released into the environment.The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged that many of those substances were seeping into nearby waterways, and many fish died almost immediately.The Agency explained that although steps had been "taken to minimize" this impact, efforts had focused on the "protection" of drinking water.Water that, always according to the Agency, had not been affected.At the end of last week, in fact, the EPA announced that the rest of the contamination markers had returned to normal.Insecurity on the ground.As is reasonable in the face of an accident as spectacular as this, the residents have doubts.Doubts that have only grown after the arrest of Evan Lambert on Wednesday (and his release due to "the lack of case" to support the arrest).If we take into account that there are testimonies that go so far as to say that "you could smell it and taste it, and my head hurt" and the statements in which it is said that they came to "fear for their lives", it is worth asking why they were not is talking more about the accident.Why aren't we talking about this?The most obvious answer is that, in less than two days, the National Transportation Safety Board identified a mechanical problem as responsible for the accident, and the EPA declared the environmental damage to be (within the magnitude of the incident) limited.This turned off the story of the "chemical Chernobyl" and oriented it towards something more corporate: the story of how Norfolk Southern itself had 'lobbied' to withdraw the mandatory nature of the mechanisms that would have prevented the accident.Successfully.And that's where context comes into play.The accident coincides with one of the great controversies of recent years: the open conflict in the North American railways that, faced with the threat of a general strike at the end of 2022, led Congress to approve a law to prevent it.That is to say, it comes at a time when the government, legislators, companies and unions maintain a pulse at all levels that increases the leftovers on the management of the accident.What is the real dimension of the problem?Unfortunately, today, we do not have much more data than the official ones and, with these in hand, talking about a "chemical Chernobyl" is clearly hasty.It is true that we can track news about dead cattle and strange cases;but, for the moment, it is tabloid material and is poorly verified.It cannot be ruled out that the medium-term effects are enormous, but (beyond spectacular images and testimonials), what we know is this: that the accident was tremendously spectacular, but its consequences are yet to be determined.Share A Train in Ohio and a Catastrophe: What We Really Know About America's "Chemical Chernobyl"More sites you'll likeSee more articlesSee more videos