- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2023

“We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open,” former Ohio fire chief Silverio Caggiano explained to “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday, speaking of the fallout from the Feb. 3 train derailment, which he said mimicked a “nuclear winter.”

On Monday, it was reported that more toxic chemicals were aboard the Norfolk Southern Railroad train that derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, than originally disclosed. After the train crashed, the railroad worked on a “controlled release and burn” of the chemicals on the train, sending even more toxins into the state’s air and soil.

Among the substances on the train was vinyl chloride, a colorless gas that burns easily. Results from several studies have suggested that “breathing air or drinking water containing moderate levels … of vinyl chloride might increase [the] risk for cancer,” according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. In addition, studies in animals have found that extremely high levels of vinyl chloride can damage the liver, lungs and kidneys, according to the agency.

Also being transported on the ill-fated train were ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene. The International Agency of Research on Cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency have classified acrylates as a possible human carcinogen, linked to skin, eye and throat reactions as well as cancer. The other toxins can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, dizziness and drowsiness.

Evacuation orders were given for all residents living within a mile of the crash site, but those were lifted on Feb. 8 after air and water samples collected were deemed safe. On Monday, the EPA warned that “residents may still smell odors from the site” and suggested those experiencing any symptoms contact their doctor. In a letter sent to Norfolk Southern on Friday, however, the EPA said the chemicals carried on the train “continue to be released to the air, surface soils and surface waters.”

Ohioans don’t feel safe. Two residents of East Palestine have filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, calling on the rail carrier to pay for medical screenings and related care for anyone living within 30 miles of the crash site, along with undetermined damages.

One resident of North Lima, more than 10 miles from East Palestine, told WKBN-TV of Youngstown that her five hens and rooster died suddenly the day after Norfolk Southern burned the train cars.

“Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek,” Cathey Reese, who lives in Negley, Ohio, told NBC affiliate WPXI of Pittsburgh last week. The dead fish started showing up in her backyard stream after the crash.

“When they combusted the materials, they created other chemicals. The question is, What did they create?” Andrew Whelton, a professor of environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, told NBC News on Monday. He said it’s possible the burn created other compounds that the EPA and Ohio officials might not be testing for.

Until this week, the Biden administration and the mainstream media have largely remained quiet on the ecological disaster surrounding the derailment. NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert was arrested by Ohio police for live broadcasting at a press conference by Gov. Mike DeWine. Video footage of the burn site has been scarce.

While speaking Monday morning  at the National Association of Counties conference, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ignored the Ohio derailment, but he did find the time to mention that, in his opinion, too many White people work in construction.

Mr. Buttigieg was also noticeably absent during the railroad labor negotiations in the fall — he was vacationing with his husband in Portugal.

The rail workers were striking for increased safety measures, among other issues, concerns that were dismissed by President Biden, who was desperate to avoid a supply chain breakdown during the Christmas buying season. In December, “Amtrak Joe” signed legislation forcing railway unions to accept a labor agreement that many of them opposed.

“Ineffective oversight and a largely self-monitoring industry that has cut the nation’s rail workforce to the bone in recent years as it puts record profits over safety is responsible for the wreck,” Ron Kaminkow, an Amtrak locomotive engineer and former Norfolk Southern freight engineer, told The Guardian over the weekend.

On his Twitter feed, Mr. Kaminkow linked to a Lever News story that described how rail companies worked hand in glove with the U.S. government to block safety rules like the union-backed push for electronically controlled pneumatic braking on trains carrying hazardous, flammable materials.

Moreover, Norfolk Southern has used countless small to medium-sized grants to public and private organizations in its operating areas. These local organizations have slowly built a dependence on Norfolk Southern’s “goodwill,” relying on the carrier to fund local first responders, school supplies and food banks. Many have speculated local officials are working with Norfolk Southern to help minimize and suppress reports of the damage caused by the derailment.

Only when called out by Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Monday did Mr. Buttigieg deign to address the issue, tweeting: “I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb. 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It’s important that families have access to useful & accurate information.”

To which consumer advocate and environmental activist Erin Brockovich replied: “You need to be communicating with the people impacted and those in neighboring areas. They are scared and unclear about the dangers to themselves and their loved ones. Not enough is being done here, and these statements are not sufficient.”

Yet focusing on the issue would not help the reelection prospects of Mr. Biden — who is busily touting the fruits of his infrastructure bill — Mr. Buttigieg’s attempts to focus on racial and labor equity issues instead of safety and transparency.

High priorities for this administration.

• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at The Washington Times. 

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