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Talking Points With Taylor: Keeping up with local environmental disasters

Recently, it seems Ohio can’t catch a break from environmental disasters. The EPA continues to monitor the air, water and soil quality in East Palestine, OH, and oversee the cleanup of the train derailment. Yet, in a tragically ironic accident, a truck carrying approximately 40,000 pounds of contaminated soil from the derailment site crashed and overturned on state Route 165. Luckily, no other vehicles were involved in the crash and the driver suffered only minor injuries. 

An estimated half of that soil spilled, causing the road to close. The EPA reported that the spill was contained and thankfully, is not a threat to local waterways. A disaster was avoided this time, but many are weary about the EPA’s truthfulness. East Palestine residents still report health issues more than two months after the derailment. One resident, Linda Murphy, tested positive for vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic chemical that spilled from five of the train cars. She lives just a few miles from the site and is one of many who are likely to test positive, despite the EPA’s reports deeming the air and water safe. Citizens are concerned, angry and feel they lack proper answers from their government officials.

This isn’t the only environmental health concern for Ohio residents. More than 2,000 Indiana residents have evacuated after a fire broke out at a recycling plant near the Indiana-Ohio border Tuesday afternoon. It is contained but expected to keep burning for several days. The State Fire Marshal, Stephen Jones, confirmed the smoke is toxic and more people might be evacuated depending on wind patterns. Not only is the building burning, but all of the plastic in and around the property is as well, which should raise major concern for residents around the area.

When plastics burn, they release dioxins, or highly toxic, carcinogenic, long-lasting organic chemicals. Dioxins accumulate in the food chain, meaning airborne dioxins that settle in waterways or on crops are ingested by domestic meat/dairy animals or fish. In turn, this means we ingest them too. This is also why many state and local governments have restricted or banned backyard burns. Dioxins have various health repercussions, such as asthma, reproductive or developmental disorders as well as liver, kidney and nervous system damage.

This doesn’t account for other health issues from the burnt building itself. When buildings burn, especially ones as large as the 14-acre recycling site, they release large amounts of ash and dust. Ash and dust irritate the lungs, especially for individuals with existing respiratory issues, and was a primary reason for evacuation. The EPA is testing the ash residue for asbestos as well, which if positive is another respiratory concern. 

Hopefully Indiana residents will be able to return to their homes quickly and to safe conditions without any further evacuations. The disaster in East Palestine is far from over, and it will likely take years before we know the true scope of environmental and human health impact. Norfolk Southern should be responsible not only for cleanup costs, but medical expenses for the victims. It is also important the EPA continues to monitor the area and environmental impacts in local habitats. Chemicals like these have long lasting health impacts, and residents will likely continue to face health disparities for years to come.

Taylor Henninger is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Taylor by emailing her at

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