The events that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, over a month ago bear an eerie resemblance to a real-life adaptation of “The Lorax.” On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed near the small town, unleashing a series of events that would threaten the health and safety of the town’s residents and consequently launch an inspection into railroad corporations and the lack of bureaucratic enforcement of safety regulations.
The derailment caused a massive plume of noxious chemicals to blanket the town, filling the air with black smoke and poisonous gas. The community was immediately put on high alert and an emergency evacuation was ordered for all residents ahead of a controlled chemical burn by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, oil products seeped into the ground and nearby water sources, killing over 43,000 fish and posing a serious threat to the local environment.
Despite the horrific events that took place on that day, and the subsequent environmental effects, there has been very little national and state coverage on the actual derailment itself and the town of East Palestine. Once again, party politics have taken the stage with the Biden administration at its forefront.
It is true that the derailment is a political issue in which the railroad accident would never have occurred if it weren’t for corporations making power plays. Much of the evidence around the crash points to Norfolk Southern as the culprit responsible for the damage and suffering inflicted onto the residents of East Palestine, as its owners loosened safety protocols in favor of cutting costs.
In late 2022, when railroad workers protested for paid sick leave, President Biden signed a measure that effectively banned railroad strikes and conceded very little to railroad workers. Under this measure, railroad workers received only one additional paid personal day off and zero paid sick leave days per year. This lack of regulation over railroad corporations encouraged companies to persist in their dangerous behavior and blatant disregard for human life.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and federal government agencies are choosing to deny that the derailment is a citizens’ issue. East Palestine is a small working class white town located near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. For a disaster of this degree to hit this area is both an environmental and an economic catastrophe, but the state government has done very little to counteract the financial effects of the derailment.
Gov. DeWine’s promises to hold Norfolk Southern liable for damages are disregarded by the fact that railroad giants have donated large sums of money to his political campaign, making it unlikely that the company will face retribution for the derailment. Meanwhile, the federal and state EPA continue to downplay the effects of the derailment. Although there are reports of people and animals growing ill from the toxins polluting the environment, the bureaus maintain their position that air and water testing have found nothing out of the ordinary.
In spite of these unfortunate events, many liberals in predominantly blue states view this disaster as karma for the town voting for former President Donald Trump in previous election years. In a politically contentious environment like the United States, comments like these bring out the harsh but real truth about American society and its tendency to put political beliefs over human lives.
Yet, the citizens of East Palestine want nothing more than to hold those responsible accountable, no matter what party they belong to. When asked about what they would want Donald Trump to do if he was the current president, one citizen responded, “If Donald Trump was here to do something as the president, I would expect him to do the same thing that Biden would do and that would be to come in and fix up what needs to be fixed up … so we can stay where we have lived forever.”
The derailment cannot be solely about party loyalty. This incident should not have occurred just because our government is so easily swayed with promises of donations from oligopolies like Norfolk Southern. Corporations buy representative after representative so that they can continue to increase profits through cutting costs, ignoring safety regulations, and impeding railroad workers’ rights. More than anything else, the train derailment has proved that when people are in need, no one is willing to help them.