Train carrying toxic material derails in Palestine, Ohio


Rachel Kohl, Staff Writer

On Feb. 3, a train carrying toxic material derailed in Palestine, Ohio, which investigations have determined was caused by a wheel bearing failure. Amidst the accident, reports detail a failure that was entirely preventable, according to Jennifer Homendy, a chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

In total, 38 train cars derailed carrying harmful chemicals like vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, among others, all of which cause some adverse medical effects such as: difficulty breathing, skin irritation, headaches, vomiting, and potentially cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order to prevent a catastrophic explosion, officials carried out a controlled burn three days following the derailment. 

Senior Lucas Simonis has been following the story and said, “This accident is tragic for people living in the area.”

In the past month, Palestine residents have voiced worrisome concerns like reports of sickness and household pets dying, raising questions about the impact of deregulation in the transportation industry and overall corporate responsibility. While the EPA has ordered the railroad company Norfolk Southern to direct all clean-up efforts like toxic waste disposal, many constituents are not confident that their communities will be safe to return to. 

In a recent town hall meeting, residents expressed their fears. “I feel the entire city, and I feel our leaders, everybody, is letting us down,” Palestine homeowner Aaron Bragg told Ideastream Public Media.

Many Republicans also criticized the Transportation department’s approach, saying they did not respond quickly enough to the disaster in Palestine, even calling for Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg to resign. Buttigeg agreed with criticism to an extent, however pushed back on the politicization of the incident. “I think it was important to hear and see how the community was responding [and] what they were worried about,” he said.

In a Senate hearing on March 9, Norfolk Southern’s CEO Alan Shaw apologized for the incident and has committed to the continuation of relief efforts and implementation of stricter safety procedures, according to the Washington Post. This came after a second train derailed in Ohio less than a month after the Palestine derailment. This train however, was not carrying any toxic substances.

While the EPA has deemed air quality and drinking water safe in Palestine, residents are still reporting sickness, pointing to a potentially dangerous contradiction.