There's a mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals hovering over East Palestine, Ohio.
This has nothing to do with the recent spurt of UFO sightings-and-shootings. Rather, it's the result of the derailment of 150-car train. The company that owns and manages the trains, Norfolk Southern, had been warned by railroad worker unions — remember that railway strike last year? — that the new braking regulations were potentially disastrous. And indeed, they were: the derailed trains began leaking dangerous chemicals, including the carcinogenic vinyl chloride, which lead the company to decide that the best course of action was to burn the chemicals and turn them into a horrifyingly massive smoke plume over the 5,000-person town. Oops.
Two days after the company vented and burned the vinyl chloride, East Palestine residents who evacuated were allowed to return to their homes but have complained of smells, headaches, nausea and other ailments, according to the Washington Post.
Acute exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride, a classified human carcinogen, in the air has been linked to central nervous system effects, while chronic exposure has been shown to cause liver damage, including a rare form of liver cancer, according to the EPA.
When vinyl chloride burns it decomposes into hydrogen chloride and phosgene, according to the International Programme on Chemical Safety. Phosgene is highly poisonous and was used extensively during World War I as a choking agent, while hydrogen chloride is irritating and corrosive to any tissue with which it comes into contact.
But it's all good. Norfolk Southern graciously donated $25,000 to the 5,000 citizens of East Palestine who were displaced by the incident.
[does quick math]
Sorry, what I meant to say was that Norfolk Southern gave $5 to everyone impacted by the massive toxic smoke plume hovering over their town that is a direct consequence of the company's insistence on cutting labor safety corners.
The company later amended this gracious donation, saying they would give $1000 "inconvenience checks" to the affected residents. In fact, the day after boasting about their $25,000 donation, the company followed up by saying that actually they had technically given one million dollars to the cause.
Insert Dr. Evil close-up.
According to their own press release, Norfolk Southern is:
• Distributing more than $1.2 million in financial assistance to nearly 900 families and a number of businesses to cover costs related to the evacuation. Those include reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items.
• Reimbursed the East Palestine Fire Department $220,000 to replace Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) air packs, which allow firefighters to breathe compressed air when responding to fires.
• Providing more than 100 air purifiers for residents to use in their homes. Air purifiers are also being purchased for the East Palestine municipal building in coordination with the City Manager.
• Coordinating and funded cleaning and air monitoring services for the East Palestine Elementary and High Schools.
• Completing more than 400 in-home air tests in conjunction with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In-home air monitoring has not detected substances related to the incident and does not indicate a health risk.
I'm sure a good corporate accountant can fudge the numbers to make that all equal to [close-up] one million dollars (all or most of which is presumably either tax-deductible, or otherwise able to be written off as a business loss).
Meanwhile, here's what's going on in East Palestine, Ohio, according to NPR:
There have been a growing number of reports about people experiencing a burning sensation in their eyes, animals falling ill and a strong odor lingering in the town.
Some business owners and East Palestine residents have filed lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, saying the company was negligent and demanding the company fund court-supervised medical screenings for serious illnesses that may be caused by exposure to those chemicals.
And The New Republic:
Residents have reported inconsistencies with the policy, and frustrations with the one-mile qualification bar, as many far beyond that zone had to evacuate and are suffering symptoms. While air tests commissioned by the rail company, and some conducted by the EPA, have thus far deemed chemical amounts to be at safe levels, some experts have warned that impacts could be enduring if and when the chemicals seep into the soil and groundwater. And people feel that neither Norfolk Southern, nor the government, offers clear guidance.
Amanda Greathouse, who resides near the crash site, evacuated about one hour after the incident. She only returned home on February 10, a full week later, to retrieve personal effects like bank and ID cards. Even then, as she and her family walked through the home donning N-95 masks and gloves, an ominous odor pervaded. After leaving, her eyes burned and itched, her throat was sore, and she had a rash; her husband and both her sisters had migraines.
The next day, the family went to Norfolk Southern's community family assistance center to obtain the $1,000 inconvenience check. After a four-hour wait, Greathouse was informed they needed more documents. The family was forced to return to their home again to retrieve additional documents, and left with renewed symptoms.
Reports of suffering animals, from dogs and cats to fish and chickens, continue to accumulate. Taylor Holzer, an animal caretaker, lost one of his foxes. Others are in poor condition with faces swollen, stomachs upset, and eyes watering. Holzer's dog, who hadn't returned home until after the evacuation order was lifted, has begun coughing and gagging. "He will go into coughing fits so hard his front legs bow and he looks so uncomfortable," Holzer said.
It's all about the externalities, baby. Sometimes a toxic smoke plume devastating a town is just the cost of doing business, ya know?
Life After the Ohio Train Derailment: Trouble Breathing, Dying Animals, and Saying Goodbye [Prem Thakker / New Republic]
Health concerns grow in East Palestine, Ohio, after train derailment [Juliana Kim / NPR]