Ohio train explosion reveals extreme corruption at highest levels
Published: Feb 14, 2023 11:56 AM
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk and Southern trains Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.Photo: VCG

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk and Southern trains Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.Photo: VCG

On February 3, a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, crashed and exploded in East Palestine, Ohio, USA. This sparked a fire that lasted for several days and could not be safely put out by authorities, so they resorted to a controlled burn that released toxic chemicals into the air. This issue has received virtually no national media attention despite the high stakes.
However, the derailment has spurred fear among nearby residents, even after the area was declared safe, over long-term exposure risks to these chemicals. Local media reports pointed to sick children and animals dying in the surrounding region. And experts have expressed concern over dioxins, which are persistent and do not dissipate in the air. 
There are also concerns that chemicals could have gotten into the nearby Ohio River, which could affect people in a vast swath of the country, including my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. For me, this issue is a bit personal because it could put my friends and family in danger of rare forms of cancer, or other illnesses.
The disaster has spawned a flurry of anger toward local and federal officials. For instance, blame has been put on Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg because his department, as The Lever reports, "has not moved to reinstate an Obama-era rail safety rule aimed at expanding the use of better braking technology." That is in spite of the fact that a former federal safety official recently warned Congress that without better brakes, "there will be more derailments [and] more releases of hazardous materials."
Instead of this, federal regulators have mulled a proposal backed by the rail lobby that would weaken existing brake safety rules. Notably, Buttigieg does not have any expertise in transportation and was essentially a vanity political appointee by the administration of President Joe Biden to help boost his political score. The secretary faced scrutiny recently over mass flight cancellations during the holiday season, as well, with many pointing to his lack of relevant experience.
As well, local officials have also been criticized for their handling of the event. A NewsNation correspondent named Evan Lambert was actually arrested at a press conference held by Ohio state authorities about the crash, raising concerns about freedom of speech and a lack of accountability. 
Andy Boreham, a New Zealand journalist based in China, pointed out that the transportation of vinyl chloride in general is an anomaly that indicates a lack of essential regulations. He notes that in China, for example, this disaster could not have happened. According to him, the chemical is not transported at all "because China has implemented a system whereby vinyl chloride is made LOCALLY from calcium carbide, which is much safer to transport."
"That means that in China, vinyl chloride - the substance which has caused the massive environmental disaster in Ohio, USA - is not transported. It has been known for many years that vinyl chloride is extremely dangerous, not just to humans and animals, but also the wider environment," he concluded.
The entire issue surrounding the train derailment appears to be a massive corruption scandal, whereby corporations are dictating policies that impact the lives of millions of people - and put them at significant risk. As stated before, relevant officials have stated to Congress that there will be more trail derailments without regulation. Instead, we have a politically convenient, unqualified appointment sat in the highest position on this issue, who refuses to regulate the rail lobby.
We have actually already seen the power of this industry. At the end of last year, workers from some of the most extensive freight lines threatened a national strike that would have crippled the economy. But their demands were extraordinarily basic: paid sick leave, not being on call 24/7, not being forced to conduct trains alone and a decent wage. Instead, the Biden administration forced a skinny deal on workers on behalf of the rail lobby.
That Americans are essentially controlled by such interests is fundamentally unjust and inherently anti-democratic. It means that our basic livelihoods and safety are controlled by large cartels with no public accountability. And they own all our elected officials, meaning there is no way to impose regulations on them at even a basic level. This is not simply limited to the rail industry, but extends to the entire economy, as Americans enjoy far fewer consumer and environmental protections than peer countries.
The author is a Prague-based American journalist, columnist and political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn