Ohio derailment: Questionable safety, 'possible ecological death'

It has been more than two weeks since around 50 train cars derailed in the town of East Palestine, Ohio, arousing questions about whether the town is as safe as officials have said and also the government's poor social governance.

Questionable safety

For now, authorities said the air is safe to breathe and the municipal water supply safe to drink. However, what local residents have heard and suffered made the officially-announced safety questionable.

Earlier this week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said that test results showed the water in the town was fine, while telling residents to use bottled water.

And after residents returned from evacuation after being told it was safe, they began to develop symptoms including rashes and nausea, let alone dead fish floating on creeks and water covered with film.

"Why are people getting sick if there's nothing in the air or water," a resident shouted at the town hall Wednesday night, when a meeting was held and supposed to tell locals whether their water was safe to drink and their soil was safe to farm.

Experts also questioned about the official results and warned about long-term damage to local environment.

Peter DeCarlo, associate Professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told China Media Group that the official monitoring of the local air, from the monitoring equipment to data, is not convincing.

Noting the monitoring results came from handheld devices, DeCarlo said those devices are not designed to monitor outdoor air quality, so as an atmospheric surveyor, he is not satisfied with such a test and its test results.

As for DeCarlo, when people reported a smell, there are still chemicals in the environment that were not there before.

Officials continue to conduct operation and inspect the area after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 17, 2023. /CFP
Officials continue to conduct operation and inspect the area after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 17, 2023. /CFP

Officials continue to conduct operation and inspect the area after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 17, 2023. /CFP

'Possible ecological death'

Evaggelos Vallianatos, an analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told Xinhua that the train derailment could cause long-term damage to local environment. "The result was destruction and possible ecological death, immediate and chronic."

"Of the released chemicals, vinyl chloride is certain to cause large harm. It is used for mass production of plastic products. Vinyl chloride causes cancer, and breathed at large quantities, causes death," Vallianatos added.

Read more:

What to know about Ohio train derailment and vinyl chloride

The black smoke and fires billowing from the explosive site reached heavens, and the winds pushing the cancer gas and smoke into people's homes and river waters and wildlife, Vallianatos said, adding that burning vinyl chloride adds poisons to the air: hydrogen chloride and phosgene - both "extremely dangerous."

While agreeing the incident increases the health risks to local residents, Jay H. Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of La Verne, told Xinhua that there is an incentive for governments and businesses to indicate conditions are now safe and it may not be for particular homes.

As many as 15 days have passed since the tragegy happened, there are still no viable solutions and federal government once refused to provide disaster aid to Ohio. In addition, multiple analysis showed the incident once again became a blame game between Democrats and Republicans.

Liu Weidong, a researcher with the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told CMG that both Democratic and Republican parties shift the blame to each other in a bid to divert the public's attentiona and try to gain advantages in the future elections.

Liu also attributed the relevant authorities' insufficient attention on chemicals' safety and the lack of strict regulation on production and transportation of chemicals' to the Ohio train disaster. 

(With input from agencies)

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