MANISTESTED EVENTS BRIEF - EAST PALESTINE CHEMICAL DISASTER EVENT
A BROADER PERSPECTIVE
It has now been over three weeks since a Norfolk Southern train transporting 20 cars of toxic and flammable chemicals derailed in East Palestine Ohio. There has been much news on this and depending on the media organization certain truths become evident. We have experienced chemical ‘accidents’ over and over again in our country and we just cannot seem to manage the manifestation of these life-threatening acts of Humanity. Are we just too ignorant to solve the problem? Are we too disassociated with Nature to not see how dangerous the chemicals we continue to purposely or accidently release in the environment are to all life, including us? Are we too disassociated from each other allowing us to ignore chemical ‘accidents’ effecting others as long as it does not directly affect us? Are we so attached to our way of life in America that we simply accept the multiple layers of toxicity we have created in our environment as simply part of modern civilization? Why do we continue to believe that our politicians will fix the problem when in fact they continue to receive money from the perpetrators of our toxic world? What can we learn from this toxic release event and what actions can be taken to stop the pollution madness in our country and the world? And, for each of us personally, what role can we see for ourselves in righting the wrong, this crime against humanity?
It Is All Part of Modern Industrialized Civilization
The Norfolk Southern train of 150 cars that derailed in Palestine Ohio was transporting 20 cars of hazardous and flammable chemicals. The EPA published a list of these chemicals which include:
Vinyl chloride: a colorless gas that is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics is highly flammable and is also carcinogenic.
Butyl acrylate: a clear liquid that is used for making paints, sealants, and adhesives. It is flammable and can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.
Ethylhexyl acrylate: used to make paints and plastics. It can cause skin and respiratory irritation and, under moderate heat, can produce hazardous vapor.
Ethylene glycol Monobutyl: used as a solvent for paint and inks, as well as some dry- cleaning solutions. It is classed as acutely toxic, able to cause serious or permanent injury, and highly flammable.
All of them are toxic chemicals, the invention of modern technology. The most dangerous of these chemicals is Vinyl chloride which when burnt gives off phosgene and hydrogen chloride and dioxins highly carcinogenic chemicals.
The chemicals carried on the train are simply part of society’s love affair with a synthetic world. Plastics are a big part of this world and we have known for decades just how toxic plastics are, yet we just cannot seem to adjust our lives to exist with less plastic. Let’s look at a little history of this invention and the big role plastics play in our world both good and bad. Unfortunately, the ‘bad’ far outweighs the ‘good’ and the convenience and cheap appeal of plastics is literally killing us.
Brief History of Plastics
Plastics are made of a group of materials known as polymers. Like so much in life, there are natural polymers such as cellulose which makes up the cell walls of plants and there are synthetic polymers, man’s attempt to mimic Nature. What people are mostly familiar with are the synthetic polymers. Synthetic polymers are comprised of carbon atoms most often from petroleum and other fossil fuels.
Synthetic polymers are strong, lightweight, and flexible The properties of polymers make them exceptionally useful, and since we learned how to create and manipulate them synthetic polymers have become an ever- present part of our lives.
The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt. During this time there was a growing popularity in billiards which required ivory. This widespread human pleasure put a strain on the elephant population being slaughtered for their ivory tusks. A New York firm offered $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory. Hyatt responded to the offer. He treated natural cellulose, derived from cotton fiber, with camphor and discovered a plastic that could be crafted into a variety of shapes and made to imitate natural substances like ivory.
In the early 20th Century, the United States was experiencing a technological boom with electricity. The deployment of electrical infrastructure required insulation for wires which was manufactured using shellac. In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented a substitute for shellac, Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. Bakelite was a good insulator; it was also durable, heat resistant, and, unlike celluloid, ideally suited for mechanical mass production. With these new discoveries, chemical companies began investing in further development of plastics.
World War II necessitated the expansion of plastics research and development. The need to preserve scarce natural resources made the creation of synthetics a priority for our country and the plastics industry expanded into more uses. “Nylon, invented by Wallace Carothers in 1935 as a synthetic silk, was used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows… During World War II plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.”
The United States had just come out of the Great Depression and a World War. The economy was picking up and people wanted to consume as they had more money to spend. Most of what they bought was made of plastic. Some even said that plastics allowed those with less income to enjoy things in life that mostly only the wealthy could afford – as long as it was made of plastic.
Then in the 1960s spearheaded by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, people began to see the downside of plastics. It was non-degradable and accumulated in the environment. It had toxic effects on humans and other life. It began to fill up landfills, found in our oceans, in fish and animals and now poses an existential threat to human existence as microplastics.
Yet, we cannot seem to kick the plastics habit. Technology marches on and with it, so do plastics. We see plastic used in nearly every consumable product: Food packaging, cars, cell phones, plastic bags, home goods, insulation, personal products of all kinds, clothes, medical and other equipment. The list is long. Plastics remain cheap and pervasive. People want plastic and have absorbed the true cost of plastics in our own ill-health and the death of the planet. Yet, we cannot detach from plastic, just as we cannot seem to detach from the chemical industry that created it.
The problem with plastics, synthetics and the chemical industry as a whole is that with the depletion of natural resources and our obsession with some Western view of modern society and its incessant consumption, we have little choice but to create a whole world of synthetics. We are now spending money on synthetically lab created food. Millions of Americans will jump on this trend and believe they are saving world when they are killing themselves. The world is dying now and with it, natural resources which is why there continues to be development of synthetics. With 8 billion people and growing there is just not enough natural resources for everyone. And, when the U. S. and rich West continue to consume an inordinate amount of the world’s resources, dislocations of supply will be exacerbated. What do you think the war in Ukraine is really about?
A Synthetic World, A Toxic World, An Unsustainable World
So, when we hear of chemical accidents whether by rail transport or other means keep in mind it is our desires, demands and wants for material things that have forced the creation of toxic synthetics we have now become dependent on. Unless we change our living habits, this problem is not going away. In fact, as The Guardian has reported the U.S. is averaging one chemical accident every 2 days: “…accidental releases – be they through train derailments, truck crashes, pipeline ruptures or industrial plant leaks and spills – are happening consistently across the country.” In the first seven weeks of 2023, there were more than 30 incidents. “The precise number of hazardous chemical incidents is hard to determine because the US has multiple agencies involved in response, but the EPA told the Guardian that over the past 10 years, the agency has “performed an average of 235 emergency response actions per year.”
“The vast majority of incidents, however, occur at the thousands of facilities around the country where dangerous chemicals are used and stored.”
“What happened in East Palestine, this is a regular occurrence for communities living adjacent to chemical plants,” said Stanislaus. “They live in daily fear of an accident.”
“In all, roughly 200 million people are at regular risk, with many of them people of color, or otherwise disadvantaged communities, he said.
There are close to 12,000 facilities across the nation that have on site “extremely hazardous chemicals in amounts that could harm people, the environment, or property if accidentally released”, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last year. These facilities include petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturers, cold storage facilities, fertilizer plants and water and wastewater treatment plants, among others.”
We have created a synthetic world because we insist on living some perceived vision of prosperity and adding more pressures on a strained environment. This is not just the U. S. This is as world-wide dilemma and we exacerbate it by preaching falsehoods about how wealthy America is (our debt just passed $30 Trillion), how everyone should be like America and at the same time our military, which is bigger than the 10 largest militaries combined with over 750 bases world-wide acts in imperialist fashion to dominate the world. Think about this because what will be explored further on the East Palestine toxic event is nothing less than myriad mistakes of great human folly. And, until we recognize, accept, and correct our mistakes we will continue down the path of planetary omnicide, chemical toxins being just one of the many existential threats we face.
On February 3, 2023 a Norfolk Southern train hauling 150 cars, 20 of which had hazardous flammable chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The train fell off the tracks. There was no debris, no vehicle, no obstruction of any kind on the tracks at the time the train derailed.
So, how does this happen? Evidently two days earlier an axel on one of the cars caught fire. By the time the train reached East Palestine, the axel and wheel collapsed causing the derailment. Why did no one see this earlier? Why was there no technology capable of notifying the engineer of the problem? This needs to be investigated because there are still over 1,000 railroad derailments a year in America.
“It is unknown if this is one of the two “known” mechanical problems workers say was “undetected” or “ignored” prior to the crash.”
“What is known is that in the years leading up to the accident, Norfolk Southern eliminated “key maintenance” positions that are responsible for detecting overheating problems before it leads to an accident, according to Christopher Hand, director of research at the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS).” WSWS News
On February 5, the government ordered shelter in place with evacuation for those living within a mile radius of the rail accident. There are those speaking out now who believe more people should have been evacuated and for a longer period while toxicity data is monitored.
On February 6, Norfolk Southern launches a controlled burn to avoid an explosion. This set off the dispersion of toxic dioxins into the air. Discussion on this decision will continue as to whether it was necessary or caused increased harm.
February 7 people in Pennsylvania begin to experience symptoms of toxicity prompting Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro to blast Norfolk Southern and said “Norfolk Southern’s “unwillingness to explore or articulate alternate courses of action to their proposed vent and burn limited state and local leaders to respond effectively.” He further said, “You can be assured that Pennsylvania will hold Norfolk Southern accountable for any and all impacts to our Commonwealth.” “I urge the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to reexamine what constitutes a high-hazard flammable train and revisit the need for regulation requiring high-hazard flammable trains to carry more advance safety and braking equipment,”
February 8 the evacuation order is lifted.
February 10 Some residents say when they returned to their homes in East Palestine, within a half hour they developed a rash and nausea.
February 14 3500 fish in 12 species have died in Ohio waterways.
February 17 Gov. Mike DeWine says no derailment contaminants have been found in homes tested for air quality and that there is a section of Sulfur Run near the crash site that remains severely contaminated.
The repercussions of this toxic disaster will continue to unfold with or without news coverage. The damage to the environment and those living in it will continue for a long time. CNN offers a timeline on this disaster. It shows just how complex a problem the clean -up will be.
“This will be a far- reaching environmental catastrophe.” “This has been moving well away from the accident scene and is killing animals.” “It’s like Chernobyl. It’s so wide spread you can’t fix it. You have to leave.”
-Donald Loucks, Hazardous Materials Expert
By deciding on a ‘controlled’ burn of the chemicals which include vinyl chloride, Norfolk Southern and the Ohio governor’s office released dioxins and hydrochloric acid into the environment. This in and of itself isan environmental disaster of yet unknown proportions. However, the toxicity of the chemicals now aerosolized due to the burn-off will travel and affect people for miles.
East Palestine is a farm community. All the fall-out from the chemical burn-off will seep into the soil and get into future crop production. Vinyl Chloride has made it into the Ohio River. The Ohio River is the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people. More than 25 million people live on the Ohio River Basin. Think about the ripple effect of this toxic event.
Dioxins are released from the burning of chlorinated chemicals such as vinyl chloride. Vinyl Chloride/Dioxin is perhaps the most toxic chemical known and are bioaccumulated in lipids. These chemicals half -life in the soil is 50-100 years and thousand of square miles of farmland are now heavily contaminated with dioxin fallout. In-door pets are dying and mass animal die-off is prevalent in the area of the toxic event. Cancer rates are likely to soar. The whole town may need to be evacuated.
Politics and Human Error
This whole manifested event is another in the ongoing human-made disasters our world continually confronts. We are our own worst enemy and even more disconcerting is our actions individually and collectively are destroying a whole planet.
The East Palestine toxic disaster is the result of human and corporate greed, self-serving interests, disassociation with each other and Nature, a refusal to admit and fix our mistakes and a persistent psychological defect of humans to deny the truth, to insist on living in fantasy.
The American political system is fraught with loop-holes and means of undue influence by wealthy corporations and elites. We have know this for years, yet collectively we have not found the will to change it. As such the world we find ourselves in reflects the desires, wants, personal greed and power of a small ruling elite. And, we who insist on following this agenda by consuming the ideas and products purveyed by this elite are all accomplices. Until we admit to our role played in all this, we cannot possibly begin to fix the myriad problems we face.
We are all East Palestine. We are all being sprayed like bugs with toxins every day through geoengineering stratospheric aerosol injection I have discussed in earlier posts.
The conflicts of interest between the big railroad lobby and our national and local politicians are stunning. A major lobbying arm of the petrochemicals industry is the Vinyl Institute which has long been a force in Washington and its dealings are rarely scrutinized. The group spent $540,000 in lobbying efforts last year the most of any year previous.
The individual railroads like Norfolk Southern also lobby local and national legislators heavily. Norfolk Southern, which reported record-breaking operating revenues of $12.7 billion in 2022 successfully thwarted at least one Ohio bill aimed at improving railroad safety.
Senator Sherrod Brown describes the state of railroad and U.S. politics clearly:
“Speaking on Sunday to CNN’s State of the Union, the Democrat said the derailment, which released toxic chemicals including the carcinogenic vinyl chloride, was an episode of “the same old story…” and that Norfolk Southern “caused it”.
“Corporations do stock buybacks, they do big dividend checks, they lay off workers,” Brown said. “Thousands of workers have been laid off from Norfolk Southern. Then they don’t invest in safety rules and safety regulation, and this kind of thing happens. That’s why people in East Palestine are so upset.”
Yep, business as usual in Washington until and unless a critical mass of Americans demand change.
In 2015 the Obama Administration passed a weakened railroad safety bill which was heavily lobbied by the railroad industry requiring all trains with at least 70 cars of hazardous flammable chemicals be classified as carrying hazardous waste and replace the current 19th Century braking system with a new electrical system. The Trump administration repealed this bill. Yet, the original law would not have affected the East Palestine event because the Norfolk Southern train was only hauling 20 hazardous chemical cars. Safety legislation with teeth needs to be passed in Congress and enforced if we are to change the safety record of the railroad industry and other hazardous industries.
Then you have all the mistakes made at the time of the derailment. There had been ongoing concerns about the maintenance of the train and urgency voiced that the 150-car train was too long and heavy to be run safely. This was all ignored by Norfolk Southern.
Railroad Workers United, a US rail workers union, described derailment earlier this month as a '19th century-style mechanical failure of the axle on one of the cars – an overheated bearing'.
“There is no way in the 21st century, save from a combination of incompetence and disregard to public safety, that such a defect should still be threatening our communities…”
The “hot box” axel of the train which caused the derailment was missed because of bad corporate decisions and poor maintenance. The overheating axel was missed because the sensor along the rail tracks meant to monitor this malfunctioned. We used to have a Caboose at the end of a train where personnel could watch for “hot boxes.” The industry ended this practice to save money. Given the size of the Norfolk Southern train it was impossible for the engineers up front to see the overheating axel.
It is very questionable if the ‘controlled burn-off of the vinyl chloride was necessary or simply done to get the trains up and running again more quickly. It has certainly exacerbated the environmental damage. And, normal procedure in this situation is to contain hazardous chemicals and move them through transport to a safe and secure location.
Donald Loucks, Hazardous Materials Experts explains in detail the mistakes made by the railroad and officials. You can listen to it here.
Where Do We Go from Here?
What happens after this disaster event is totally up to the American public. Politicians and corporations do what they do because we let them. Disasters like this occur and there is a lot of news and noise. After awhile people forget about it and it is back to business as usual.
Americans have become apathetic which is a huge danger for our fragile form of Democracy. It is a huge danger for our way of life and with the kind of existential threats we face today, a huge danger to life in general.
We can no longer afford to shrug our shoulders and say, “politicians lie, that’s just what they do.” Or “big money controls our government, that’s just the way it is.” Or the most dangerous attitude, “there’s nothing I can do about it anyway, so why worry about it?”
The truth is people have more power than they think and the politicians and ruling elite know this which is why they are constantly keeping us divided and off balance with fabricated disasters.
Our strength is in numbers and begins when we have the courage to talk about the truth of the dangerous challenges we face with friends and family with honest concern and desire to do something. We can organize into groups which can then organize into larger groups of concerned citizens. When politicians see vast numbers of people demanding change they will have to take notice. It is only through organized numbers that we can overcome the power of the elite and the bought politicians and we can do this.
I have cited many organizations and sources in this article which you can explore. You can also find advocacy groups on any issue of interest and concern to you to work with and support. For those of you who are in a position and have time in your life to do this now, I encourage you to get engaged, find your voice, and act. Your children need your involvement. Future generations need your involvement. The world needs your participation and contribution because deep down inside you and all of us is a fire and wisdom which when unleased is unstoppable.