On February 3rd, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. 50 cars were derailed or damaged, and 5 of them carried vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogenic and colorless gas. Then a large number of local residents were evacuated. On February 6th, the emergency crew conducted a controlled release and burn of vinyl chloride in the 5 cars, to avoid massive explosion. The live video shows that black smoke blocked the sky and covered a large area. Evajelos Vallianatos, ecological strategist and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, pointed out that it was inappropriate for the authorities to dump chemicals from the carriages and burn them in the open, exposing people and nature to the spilled chemicals were exacerbating the hazard.
After the incident, many local residents obviously felt sick. A resident Eric Whitney said in an interview that the air smelled like an “over-chlorinated swimming pool”. His eyes burned, but he and his family had nowhere to go. Many people around are suffering from headaches and other symptoms. Another resident Todd reported that her whole family had symptoms such as headaches and nausea, and smelled a pungent smell like burning tires and nail polish remover.“I haven’t heard anything that makes me think that this is a data-driven decision, we don’t feel like we have a whole lot of information.”
According to WKBN, a local TV station in Ohio, many pet cats and dogs in the town where the incident occurred have showed symptoms and even died. A local fox breeder said that most of his foxes suffered from loss of appetite, listlessness and facial swelling, and one of them died. The ecological pollution in the town has even spread to neighboring towns: a resident of North Lima Town who is 15 kilometers away reported that six of his chickensdied suddenly overnight. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated that around 3,500 fish died in the polluted river. Residents in Ohio also reported dead fish in the river, worrying about their health.
Only five days after the incident, local authority cancelled the evacuation order on February 8th. Ohio Governor DeWine said in a statement that samples taken by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that air quality readings in and around the incident site were normalized and that residents of East Palestine could “go home safely”. An American expert on dangerous substances, Hill Kajanoyowas surprised by how quickly authorities allowed people to go home, and said the toxic chemicals may still be in the house or on objects. DeWine held a press conference on February 14th, he acknowledged the environmental hazards and said that the authority was carrying out the clean-up work to alleviate public concerns about environmental quality damage. Hundreds of residents of East Palestine town asked the government to confirm the local water quality. However, many residents said that as of February 21st, their questions were never answered, and local government never told them about the real pollution situation.
It is worth mentioning how Biden administration handles this incident. The mayor of East Palestine Trent Conaway said at a community gathering that it took nearly two weeks for everyone at the White House to get in touch with Biden after the incident. During an event on February 13th, the Transportation Secretary Buttigiegpraised the Biden administration’s infrastructure projects, instead of mentioning this incident. DeWine’s office claimed in a statement on February 16 that the office contacted with FEMA every day to discuss the need for federal assistance, however, FEMA continued to deny the eligibility of Ohio for federal assistance. Fox News quoted sources as saying on February 17th that Donald Trump planned to go to East Palestine and meet with community residents next Wednesday. Trump, who has announced his 2024 presidential bid, is “closely connected to the people of Ohio,” the source said.The White House announced late on the 17th that at the request of the governor of Ohio, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were deploying a team of medical staff and toxicologists to investigate the toxic effects of a train derailment in the state, and carry out public health detection and assessment of chemical leak.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated on the 20th that the detection and sample test of the local air would continue until the heavily polluted soil in the derailed train area is completely removed and the smell dissipates.