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In Case You Missed It: Environmental disaster in East Palestine causes commotion

With environmental issues at the forefront of news and politics, the coverage of a local disaster has been minimal and continues to receive less. On the morning of Feb. 3, a train carrying 11 rail cars of hazardous material derailed in East Palestine furthering the ongoing environmental crisis. 

According to The New York Times, the derailment caused a fire, leading many residents of the town to fear an explosion. Authorities evacuated the area most affected to release the toxic chemicals through a controlled burn in a trench on Feb. 6. Despite Gov. Mike Dewine allowing residents to move back into their homes, there are still concerns for the quality of the water, air and soil in the area. 

Jared DeForest, an environmental science professor, was aware of the derailment in East Palestine. He calls himself an ecosystem ecologist, focusing the majority of his studies on the soil. He voiced concerns for the people and soil in the area. 

“I know that they’re having trouble with where to dispose of (the hazardous material),” said DeForest. “Where are you going to put it? That’s one of the areas with these chemicals leaching and things like that to keep out of the groundwater. Once it gets in there, it’s done … and you don’t want to be drinking that.”

According to Forbes, while residents were told the area was safe to move back into, many have complained of rashes, sore throats, nausea and headaches since the derailment. Residents have begun to fear for their health despite the EPA saying there was no health risk. 

“A lot of these compounds cause cancer, they’re known carcinogens,” said DeForest. “And like I said, a lot of these chemicals that we have, they don’t go away, or it takes time.”

In addition to health concerns, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources claimed a death toll of 43,722 minnows, fish, crayfish and amphibians in the surrounding area of East Palestine. No human deaths have been recorded. 

With the derailment being so severe, there are complaints from the general public, especially on social media, that this incident had received limited coverage in the media until people began voicing health concerns. Media Matters found major TV news networks did not cover the incident during their major Sunday shows, and only two programs discussed weakening regulations for rail transport of hazardous materials. Students and environmental activists have been at the helm of pushing for coverage and awareness of the state of East Palestine’s environment. 

Students like Haley Martin, a freshman studying psychology, and Kate Knaup, a freshman studying nursing, both expressed concerns regarding the incident.

“I think it's really sad because it’s affecting the environment and a lot of people,” said Martin.

Knaup said she agrees with Martin.

“I think it’s actually crazy,” said Knaup. “I feel like we’re kind of close to it, like the fact that it’s in Ohio and everything.”

Both felt as though there should be more attention around such a serious incident, especially with how recent and how close it is. 

“I feel like there should be more awareness,” said Martin. “I haven’t heard a lot about it.”

DeForest disagreed, however, and said he felt there was adequate news coverage, as it had been featured prominently in his online news sources. 

Jennifer Homendy, the chair for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the event was “100% preventable,” as a wheel bearing failure is what caused the train to derail. The National Transportation Safety Board said it is making sure this is an event that will not be repeated and that efforts for preventing a similar accident in the future are underway. 

With a disaster as serious as the train derailment in East Palestine, it is no question why any supposed lack of coverage is turning heads, especially with health concerns on the rise and environmental crises being so prominent. Ohio University students call for more awareness around incidents such as this one going into the future. 

“I really feel for the people there,” DeForest said. “As an ecosystem ecologist … it’s knowing that what happened to the land or those felt, it’s there to stay for a very long period of time.”


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