Air Quality & The Train Derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

ByMarc Silberberg


Air quality, a phrase that has so many different connotations to so many different people. To some of us, it means the air quality index of the day and to others it means our indoor air quality. To those suffering from health issues such as asthma and emphysema it is crucial to have more than satisfactory air quality both indoors and outdoors. Sadly, harmful air quality can go unnoticed by toxins that don’t smell. If you smell a gas odor in your home, you immediately call the gas company or if you smell fire, you call the fire department. However, most harmful chemicals are not so easily apparent, consequently a homeowner has to look outside their circle for a person to help them assure their family that their home and surrounding area is protected.

Many of us listen to the radio each day or go online to find out the air quality index of the day. In fact, some weather reports warn people with immune deficiencies to stay inside and not venture outdoors even if it looks sunny and clear from inside the home.

Various factors affect the indoor and outdoor air quality index, for example, during the COVID-19 epidemic the one thing that improved immensely was the outdoor air quality each day. As the pandemic dragged on the air quality index just kept improving and places such as Los Angeles, California, known for their hefty smog never had a clearer sky in the last hundred years.

Green environment fans are quite concerned about global warming that is infiltrating our universe and complain about all the pollutants that are contaminating our precious air. Yet, our global industries keep using harmful chemicals and pollutants to keep businesses on the cutting edge, using the fastest transportation vehicles, whether planes, trucks, or trains.

With the rapidly rising costs of shipping of all types of industrial and consumer items from one end of our great country to the other, the transportation hierarchy must cut corners to make a profit and with rising costs of fuel and personnel there are innate dangers that can somehow affect the innocent citizens of small peaceful towns.

Take the problem of train derailments that have been in the news lately. It’s serious enough when the train cars that derail are carrying non-flammable merchandise causing  danger to the properties in the town in which the accident occurs. However, when train cars are carrying such flammable and dangerous to inhale chemicals such as vinyl chloride we are getting into a whole new level of toxicity. This possible cancer-causing compound is used to manufacture wires, cables, plastic pipes, and various packaging containers. Besides being flammable it is dangerous to inhale vinyl chloride even outdoors. Since transportation costs are so high, railroads keep increasing the number of cars attached to one train engine together with decreasing the personnel manning the train there is a clear recipe for disaster.

This past February a major catastrophe occurred in the town of East Palestine, Ohio and citizens of this city are still reeling from the toxic compounds that are showing up in various venues. Independent testers are checking water and soil around the area of the derailment but have not yet reached the places near people’s homes. Citizens are concerned that no one is checking the air quality both inside and outside their homes as well as their soil and water surrounding their properties.

The train in East Palestine that derailed was carrying 149 separate cars with only three crew members supervising. If you can call this supervising when the train is two miles long there is no way a human can check from one end to the other. The controlled burn of the derailment in February clearly discharged 116,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air. It is understandable to some degree why the officials in charge had to burn up the chemicals but there has to be a better and safer way to do this to prevent greater fires and loss of life and property.

An independent tester, Scott Smith of ECO Integrated Technologies, Inc, reports of the presence of nine new dioxins in the vicinity of East Palestine. He compares the air quality of East Palestine to the air quality during the Iraq war and the sicknesses that have come about in the population of East Palestine. Dioxins are chemicals that remain in the environment long after the derailment and there is no safe human dose for these dioxins meaning even a little bit will go a long way to make citizens sick. Even after several months these dioxins are floating around in wet ground and streams and unfortunately in people’s homes affecting both indoor and outdoor air quality.

Some people refuse to move back into their homes afraid of the long-term effects of the unsafe air quality despite the fact the EPA led the citizens of East Palestine to believe that it was safe to return to their homes after two days (In those two days the controlled burn of the chemicals that were loaded on the train cars was taking place.) The EPA insisted that the 9 chemicals that independent tester Scott Smith found were present before the burn. However, Smith insists this is false because he also tested in the area called Bull Creek that was unaffected by the controlled fire, and he did not detect any of those nine chemicals there. It seems like the EPA is trying to take the easy way out and covering up the truth about these harmful compounds still in the air, soil, and water of East Palestine. In fact, the EPA failed to test for dioxins right away, nor have they as yet tested anyone’s home soil or water.

How harmful are these nine toxins? Well, these dioxins are called, “the fentanyl of chemicals” and the town has been labeled, “a chemical cocktail.” In spite of all the threats by different independent agencies the EPA stalled for several weeks until March 3, 2023, when they gave the order for the guilty railroad, Norfolk Southern, to begin testing. Residents are stuck in the middle of this political circus, with some going to the emergency room because of feeling sick with symptoms such sore throats and headaches. To prove the point of the air quality damage, locals have reported that about 3,500 fish have turned up dead in the nearby contaminated waters.

Independent tester, Scott Smith is trying his utmost to find out just how many unsafe chemicals are present in the air of the citizen’s homes. “You can’t find what you don’t look for”, said Smith explaining how he is now leading the way by looking into furnace filters to find out if the harmful dioxins are present in the homes. As mentioned, there is no safe level of these dioxins and the only positive outcome of this testing would be a zero tolerance of the effects of the vinyl chloride burning which seems unlikely. East Palestine resident, Jami Cozza put it this way, “What they truly took from us, they can never give back to us and never make right. They took our peace of mind”.

Those of us who are old enough to recall oil spills and radiation leakages many years ago can attest to the increase of cancer in certain hot spots both here and abroad. The worst of all was Chernobyl, Russia where people didn’t live in this vicinity for decades. I personally met a Russian immigrant who was treated for cancer as a Chernobyl survivor. Other cases such as Hiroshima which was bombed with an atomic bomb to put an end to World War II and closer to home is, Three Mile Island which was hit by an atomic reactor leakage.

Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, was the scene of a nuclear power plant accident, which is considered one of the worst accidents in United States history. In the early morning of March 28, 1979, a pressure valve failed to close with contaminated water from radiation escaping from the plant. Workers were exposed to unhealthy levels of radiation but supposedly no one died. We still don’t know how much the air quality of this region was affected.

Nowadays, we are fortunate that air quality can be tested by reputable air quality companies who come to the home and do an independent test of the air in the AC ducts and other areas of the home. These people don’t have an agenda to insist that the air quality is safe when it’s not. Shame on those officials in East Palestine who lured innocent people back to their homes just two days after the train derailment while the controlled fire of the cars carrying the dangerous chemical vinyl chloride was taking place.

Final Words

In today’s world, air quality whether in New York, New Jersey or Los Angeles must be taken quite seriously. Many people are allergic to dust, mites, and other autoimmune causing elements. There are so many things in our homes that collect dust and other inhalants. For example, you might be clueless as to why you are sneezing and coughing, especially if you have never had allergies before. Or you could be complaining of unexplained headaches and shortness of breath but unless you visit an allergy specialist, your doctor may not be privy to what’s going on in your home. Unless you have an air quality specialist come down to your home to test your air, you would be no wiser than your physician as to what is causing your symptoms.

In cities where pollution is rampant or caused by outside elements such as train car derailments with harmful dioxins, you must find an air quality specialist who is both independent and knowledgeable about the latest dangers to the respiratory system.

When a chemical fire such as the one in East Palestine radiates harmful carcinogens, the air quality should be checked immediately so that citizens can rest peacefully knowing their families are safe. When a railroad company decides to delay testing of the water and soil of private homes, the town might be dealing with a potential coverup to protect the railroad company. Innocent citizens’ lives can be put in danger and even shortened if they don’t act fast by protecting or even leaving their homes immediately.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic has taught us that we cannot automatically trust whatever our government tells us. By waiting for the bureaucracy to test your water and air you will be putting your family in jeopardy. Instead of waiting and living in uncertainty it would be prudent to get your own air quality tester in and around your home ASAP. It’s better to know the truth the sooner the better because we know from past history that the dangers of bad air quality sometimes only manifest themselves later in life. Lucky are those who have immediate symptoms that can be dealt with either by the emergency room or by moving to different quarters, sometimes even permanently.

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