Along with the 'gas train' derailed is Washington's concept of security: Global Times editorial
Published: Feb 15, 2023 12:05 AM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The derailment of a train in Ohio in the US has caused the leakage of a large amount of toxic chemicals. However, it did not attract widespread attention from the US mainstream media until 10 days after the accident, and a reporter was arrested for reporting on the incident. It has now become a trending topic on Twitter. More and more people are realizing that this is "a terrible environmental disaster," and some media have even called it "the Ohio version of Chernobyl." But the US federal departments and local officials are in denial. They're still claiming that the local air and water are safe with "no pollution" and are advising local residents who were previously evacuated to go home. Their tone is so light that it seems this matter will soon "pass." However, local residents continue to report abnormal phenomena, including the sudden death of a large number of animals, irritating gases in the air, and some residents experiencing nausea and headaches.

If similar things happen in other countries, it will most likely get real-time rolling reports from the mainstream media in the US. However, when things happen in the US, everything becomes different. Facing the anger and strong dissatisfaction of the local people, Washington, which talks about "human rights", "security" and "environmental protection" all the time, seemed indifferent; in the over 10 days after the accident, most of the news that occupied the headlines of the US mainstream media was related to the so-called "China Threat," while the real security and health threats to the American people has been pushed to the corner.

This contrast is extremely stark: almost all Washington elites are staring at a few "UFOs" at an altitude of about 10,000 meters and talking about "security threats," but they turn a blind eye to the poisonous gas threat that their people are facing. Some netizens have even quipped that the best way to get the government's attention is to put a "Made in China" label on the derailed train.

This highlights the serious disconnect between Washington's security philosophy and reality. The derailment in Ohio was accidental, but inevitable. According to data from the US Federal Railroad Administration, in the past 10 years, there have been an average of 3.4 train derailment accidents per day in the US, and crude oil and chemicals have frequently leaked and exploded due to train derailments. This shows that there are serious loopholes in the infrastructure construction and transportation management of dangerous goods in the US, and the safety of a large number of American residents is thus threatened. This is also a sign of the lack of governance within the US. However, Congress, as the representative of American democracy, rarely conducts investigations and accountability for these things. Instead, it has a lot of bills targeting China. Even the latest trillion-dollar infrastructure bill introduced by the Biden administration is aimed at "competing with China."

The latest figures show that there were even more toxic chemicals on the derailed train than initially reported. As for what exactly each carriage contained, it is still a mess. An environmental protection expert pointed out that the leaked vinyl chloride is a highly toxic gas. Once it enters the soil or water, it will cause greater and long-term harm. Under natural conditions, it will take at least more than ten years or twenty years to decompose. Without timely human intervention, the local population will be at risk of developing cancer within many years. A chemical expert told the Global Times that the industry has relatively mature contingency plans for vinyl chloride leaks or explosions, but they don't know why the US' handling is so unscientific this time. He believes that it is not because the US is incapable, but that it's unwilling. 

The US federal government has a number of specialized functional departments, each of which is supposed to have its own job, but now they seem to be encapsulated in the same cage called "national security." It has spared no effort to "prevent threats." Come and see, there are balloons in the sky, "they came from China," we shot them down, it seems to be very hilarious and refreshing, but will the polluted air get better? Have the soil and water been disinfected? No matter how ideologically paranoid Americans are, they also know that hyping the "China threat theory" cannot solve the real environmental security problems facing the American people. On February 13, when US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg attended an event, he didn't mention the train derailment accident, but made a clumsy joke of "spy balloon," which caused a crusade. It seems that the usual tactics of Washington politicians to deflect conflicts are no longer effective.

To some extent, the poor response of the US to the train derailment accident in Ohio was inevitable. It is a reminder that the threat to America is not external, but internal. When "national security" overshadows the operation mechanism of the whole state power, the safety limit of the public is repeatedly lowered. The incident also serves as a wake-up call to the US political elite: it is their business to focus on internal governance, which is also the right way to build a "great America." If the security concept is not "on track," its domestic security problems will continue to erupt. Who can guarantee that the next American danger will not hit the whole world?