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People and Planet: A troubling update on East Palestine train derailment

The East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment shook the lives of 4,800 people living in the city near the Pennsylvania border. In an article from NPR, the director of the Ohio Department of Health (DOH), Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, was quoted as saying that the DOH has taken every step possible to ensure the safety of the people came first and foremost. 

Still, fear and suspicion toward the government persist across Ohio due to the response of various institutions throughout the state. Some residents have felt EPA Administrator Michael Regan has danced around questions. Others have been frustrated with the flippant and condescending dismissal of concerns by Gov. Mike DeWine and other government leaders when they drank tap water from an East Palestine woman's home to prove its safety. Although they intended to reassure East Palestine residents, this display came off as insensitive toward people who were, and still are, struggling with the effects of drinking and bathing in contaminated water.

Throughout the impact zone of the derailment, those living in East Palestine and nearby have complained of headaches and irritated eyes. Thousands of fish and even wildlife and pets have been found dead.

Another error has been made in the East Palestine train derailment saga. On Monday, a truck carrying over 40,000 pounds of soil soaked in toxic chemicals from the spill overturned on the highway, spilling 20,000 pounds onto the road and the berm in Unity Township. The driver only sustained minor injuries and was cited for operating a vehicle without reasonable control.

On top of all this, representatives of Norfolk Southern, the company that owned the train that began this whole fiasco in the first place, were conveniently absent from a public meeting held earlier this year. The reason was out of an apparent concern for the safety of their workers.

If so many lives were not at risk, and the public wasn't waiting to see what illnesses would arise in those from the area in the coming years, the situation would almost be laughable. It's a mess. Norfolk Southern is cowering from people who only want answers, and the government has failed to reassure anyone. 

However, it is not only Ohio leaders who have failed the people of East Palestine. Although Gov. DeWine's approach has been questionable at times, he was trying. DeWine requested federal disaster assistance, which the Biden administration rejected, as FEMA did not believe this was a "traditional disaster" such as an earthquake or hurricane.

Thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals were spilled and released into the atmosphere during a "controlled" burn. Residents complained of physical ailments and dead fish, as the water was contaminated. This not being a "traditional disaster" is a weak excuse not to provide aid to people who desperately need it. 

As the derailment is swept up into the news stream, a lack of trust continues to plague affected areas in and around East Palestine. The people of East Palestine deserve better. It is our responsibility as Ohioans to push federal and local groups to do better.

Megan Diehl is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Megan? Email her

Megan Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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