No Vent and Burn was Necessary in East Palestine, OH

Freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February 2023. Image source: National Transportation Safety Board via WIkimedia Commons

On June 25, the National Transportation Safety Board released their latest report on the East Palestine, OH Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred in February 2023. In their report and board meeting, they exposed that the venting and burning of five carloads full of toxic chemicals – namely vinyl chloride – was not actually needed. Norfolk Southern officials and their contractors were aware that a vent and burn was not needed but continued to claim that the measure was necessary. Local officials were then forced to make the decision to vent and burn chemicals without complete information about the risks. 

The result? Earlier this week, a scientific study published that hazardous pollution from the vent and burn traveled as far as North Carolina and southern Canada. The pollution reached at least 16 states in total – a much wider spread than what some agencies earlier claimed – reaching much of the Northeast as well as Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The total span was 14% of the country’s land area, affecting an estimated 110 million people – about 1/3 of the US population. In some areas, this elevated concentrations of dangerous chemicals into the 99th percentile. 

While the Environmental Protection Agency claims there are no ongoing environmental health risks as a result of the derailment, many residents near the derailment site are now battling unprecedented health problems that did not exist before the derailment took place. Residents of East Palestine, OH and neighboring areas are not just accepting this fate – the newly-formed Justice for East Palestine Residents & Workers Coalition held a rally in March 2024 to fight for health care coverage in the aftermath of the derailment disaster.  

These reports are validation of what residents have been saying for over a year now: Norfolk Southern knew they were prioritizing profits over people’s health and livelihood when they opened up five carloads of chemicals and burned it. And we are all affected by the consequences of such pollution, whether it be immediate health impacts or longer-term changes to our climate. Just as residents are doing near East Palestine, OH, we should all be standing up against these outrageous actions by these multi-billion dollar companies. And the more organized we are, the more effectively we can take the decisions out of their hands!