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Tipsheet

'Basically Nuked a Town': Derailed Train Carried More Chemicals Than Previously Disclosed

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Days after authorities told residents in and around East Palestine, Ohio, that it was safe for them to return to their homes following a Norfolk Southern train derailment that released toxic chemicals, authorities have disclosed the presence of even more dangerous compounds present at the scene. This latest revelation doesn't do much to quell the firestorm of questions over accountability and calls for more transparency from those who live in and around East Palestine and feel left in the dark over what dangers they faced after the derailment and in the weeks ahead. 

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Following the derailment, "federal and local officials repeatedly told residents that the air quality was safe and that the water supply was untainted," The Washington Post noted. But locals told WaPo "they question whether it’s safe to return to their homes a week after contaminants flowed into local streams and spewed into the air" as hundreds of dead fish have been spotted in nearby bodies of water and other neighboring cities warn residents to ventilate their homes and wash "all surfaces with diluted bleach." 

In addition to dead fish, residents around the area of the derailment have been reporting that their chickens are suddenly dying after the "controlled burn" took place.

The perception that locals weren't told the full story — even while authorities conducted a "controlled burn" of spilled chemicals that caused a dystopian column of smoke visible on weather radar and from airplanes cruising over — was reinforced when the presence of three more chemicals were confirmed more than one week after the train first went off the rails. 

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The local CBS affiliate up the road from East Palestine in Youngstown, Ohio, reported that three additional "dangerous" chemicals — ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene — were being carried in the "rail cars that were derailed, breached and/or on fire." 

The affiliate's reporting quoted Sil Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist, saying officials "basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open."

Caggiano explained the presence of "ethylhexyl acrylate is especially worrisome" because "it’s a carcinogen and contact with it can cause burning and irritation in the skin and eyes" while breathing it in "can irritate the nose and throat and cause coughing and shortness of breath" and the isobutylene is "known to cause dizziness and drowsiness when inhaled."

Part of residents' wariness comes from a lack of transparency from authorities that was punctuated with the arrest of a journalist from NewsNation during a press conference on the derailment and its aftermath:

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Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine said that he did not approve or agree with the arrest, but the development drew ire from Ohio Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown:

The situation has also led to escalating questions for national leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who has made a name for himself as being out to lunch during multiple transportation crises during his tenure:

The lack of attention from the Biden administration is even more glaring given their obsessive focus on so-called "green" policies and stated concern about emissions. Couldn't the chemicals have been contained or cleaned up in a manner that didn't require them to be burned off into the atmosphere with even more potentially detrimental effects for those in the immediate area or downwind?

Some observers have pointed out that the controlled burn may have resulted in the presence of another chemical — one that binds with water in the atmosphere — leading to a change that the supposed "clean up" plan actually created massive plumes of toxic clouds that may drop acid rain. 

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So far the rail company — Norfolk Southern — has "offered a $25,000 donation to assist the area’s nearly 5,000 residents who were ordered to evacuate their homes, or face death."

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