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Environmental Tragedy Brushed Under the Rug

By Ashley Murphy - Rider University Eco-Rep


As a Rider community we are lucky to have access to clean water systems and non-toxic air, yet the same cannot be said for other regions of the US. On Feb. 5, 2023, a train derailment occurred in East Palestine, Ohio. This train carried a total of twenty cars that contained dangerous chemicals, of which eleven derailed. The chemicals on board consisted of vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate. These chemicals were being transported from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania, and were intended to be used to create infrastructure such as pipes for construction materials. Dr. Stratton, professor in chemistry and biochemistry at Rider University was asked what makes vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate harmful to humans. He responded, “Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen impairing liver and brain function. Butyl acrylate can be an eye, nose, and skin irritant at relatively low concentrations, and it is flammable.” In efforts to clean up the spill, officials in Ohio decided to burn off the chemicals to avoid the spread, yet Dr. Stratton added, “Some of the known byproducts from an accidental or prescribed fire are harmful including phosgene gas, hydrogen chloride, and even dioxins. Phosgene gas and dioxins are likely the most concerning due to their toxicity and their persistence in the environment, but this by no means an exhaustive list of possible by-products.” According to OSHA standards, the legal airborne exposure limit to vinyl chloride is 1 ppm (parts per million) over 8 hours. In Ohio, one million pounds of chemicals were released, surpassing the safe threshold safety guidelines.

Although East Palestine, Ohio is not an underprivileged community, soil, water, and air remediation from the derailment will affect underprivileged communities. Costs to remediate the harmful chemicals will be high and communities all over the US will be left to be poisoned by their own water. So far, the train derailment has polluted the Ohio River basin, home to twenty-five million people. Even in heavily polluted streams, worms and leeches are known to withstand toxic conditions yet since the derailment, the polluted waterways have been showing extremely unhealthy signs, such as dead fish, and even dead worms.

The pollution spread from the derailment does not end here. As of Feb. 24, 2023, 500,000 gallons of water that was used to extinguish the fire from the incident was transported all the way to Texas. This toxic wastewater is going to be injected into the ground, to be diverted from entering the biosphere. Yet, injection sites are said to divert toxic waste by placing it 4,000-5,000 feet below our drinking aquifers. Other injection sites that are receiving multiple truckloads from the East Palestine derailment include Indiana and Michigan. Stessie Chounoune, senior Environmental Science major adds, “It [East Palestine, Ohio train derailment] is going to impact water resources that will affect agriculture, thus leading soil to be contaminated. This is not going to just be an Ohio issue, but a nation issue as well”.

As a community, Rider students, faculty and staff all have a voice in efforts of holding the correct people accountable for the messy ways our government officials have decided to deal with this hazardous event that is even being coined the largest environmental disaster in the US.

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