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East Palestine residents were first told that the train carrying deadly toxins contained malt liquor

By Savannah Hamilton
|
May 21, 2023

Shocking 911 call recordings were released last week fueling more fire into the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment disaster in February. According to the Daily Mail, people were initially told that there was no imminent danger from the accident as the train was only carrying “malt liquor” or “some type of drinking alcohol.”

Not long after, however, it was discovered that 11 of the 38 train cars, which were owned by Atlanta-based company Norfolk Southern, actually contained several toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol mono butyl ether, phosgene, isobutylene among others.

Vinyl chloride is highly carcinogenic and linked to liver damage. If burned, it releases a toxic gas that can cause breathing difficulties. Ethylene glycol mono butyl ether is linked to kidney damage. And isobutylene can cause a coma in high doses.

It is estimated that around one million gallons of hazardous materials were spilled.

The derailment ended up breaking into a fire that lasted for several days and spewed toxic substances into the air. And residents soon started reporting a number of different ailments such as trouble breathing, skin irritation, and nausea.

The incident is expected to have long-lasting effects on both people’s health and the environment. Although it was said that miscommunication is to blame, local officials feel betrayed by how the events unfolded.

The accident and the aftermath are said to have been “highly preventable.”

Too Little, Too Late

It took almost 40 minutes before the word “evacuation” was mentioned. By then, however, some believe that the damage had already been done. And even then, others argue that not enough effort was made by authorities.

Only those within a one-mile radius of the crash site were told to evacuate. Everyone outside that zone was told that it was “entirely up to you.”

But the next day, people were once again told that evacuation was no longer necessary.

According to emergency dispatchers, the information given to residents was often “contradictory” and it appears that half the staff didn’t even know what was going on themselves.

A Bad Game of Telephone

According to East Palestine Fire Chief Brian Drabick, this was a matter of miscommunication as officials were “working off the information provided by Norfolk Southern.”

“All information as to what was contained in the train was provided to the officer in charge of the scene initially by a representative from Norfolk Southern,” claims Drabick, adding, “This information was given to the officer in charge approximately 30-45 minutes into the incident to the best of my knowledge.”

In addition, even the East Palestine health department advised treating the incident like any house fire.

Drabick admitted to feeling “defeated, useless and so angry” about how the people of East Palestine were misled. He felt guilty that all he could do was “sit by and watch sh*t fall apart.”

An Ongoing Catastrophe

Norfolk Southern has since been ordered to cover all costs of the accident cleanup and to see it through to the end.

Because Norfolk Southern is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the company has declined to comment on the new developments. It has, however, been said the phone calls have forced the NTSB to also look into the company’s safety practices.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims the air and water are safe after conducting tests, residents are not convinced. Given the number of fish that were found dead in the area, locals suspect the drinking water is far from drinkable.

Around half of the small 5,000-person population were evacuated in the aftermath and some residents have still not returned.