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The Ohio Train Derailment: The Ecological Impact

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Isla Stubbs explains what we know - and don’t know - so far about the ecological impacts of the recent train derailment in Ohio.

The aftermath of the derailment in East Palestine. Image credit: thunderlips36

On the 3rd February this year, a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, US. It burned for two days, releasing large amounts of hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air, as well as other hazardous chemicals. Following this, all residents within a 1-mile radius were evacuated and an emergency response is ongoing. However, this event has seen little reporting despite its severe ecological impact. Two days following the incident, a controlled burn of vinyl chloride was conducted over fears over a major explosion.

The government response has been lacking from the start, where it has been stated that the whole disaster could have been prevented if modern sensors had been implemented. Unfortunately, these were not installed due to costs, however this problem falls on the government for not ensuring these to be required under regulation. Biden has not only been criticised for the lack of response, but also for his visit to Ukraine for the 1-year anniversary of the Ukraine-Russia war. Locals have stated they have felt neglected from this response, and believe he should be standing with East Palestine.

Social media posts have shown countless individual cases that suggest that the situation is not as safe as the EPA have stated. One TikTok shows someone making a coffee with water in East Palestine (as reported as safe to drink) and sizzling when milk was added. There are also many TikToks surrounding the health of rivers, where people have disturbed the river bed to see it plume with a chemical sheen. These anecdotal reports have not only been coming from East Palestine, but from all across Ohio and neighbouring states.

A species of Iron Bacteria - Leptothrix discophora - on a pond at Kirtonhall Glen in Scotland. The appearance is similar to that reported in Ohio. Image credit: Rosser1954

This story is ongoing, and it is likely that new information regarding the environmental impact will come with time. However, the lack of coverage on this crisis by the national and international media so far is concerning, and the government response so far has been heavily criticised as too little, too late.

About the Author: Isla Stubbs (she/her) is currently in her final year studying Environmental Science at York.


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