What's going on in East Palestine is crossing the line of negligence to criminality: chemical train derailment victim
Published: Feb 26, 2023 08:34 PM

 plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, on February 6, 2023. Photo: VCG

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

Editor's Note:

The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio of the US on February 3 that unleashed highly toxic chemicals into the air, water and earth have left local residents fearing for  their lives and aggrieved about how the government and the rail company, Norfolk Southern, have handled the aftermath of the accident.  

In her I-Talk show, Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen interviewed Candice DeSanzo (DeSanzo), an East Palestine resident who and her kids suffered enormously after the derailment accident. "What I would want from the Chinese media is don't let us be forgotten, because that is my biggest fear with the media and the US," she said.

GT: After the accident, how is the water and air different from before? What happened to you and your kids?

DeSanzo: We left our house on February 3. We decided to shelter in place when we heard that they were going to do the controlled burn. We left. A few days later, they told us it would be safe to return to our homes. So we came back. And it was fine. The first night we got home, I did notice a strong smell in the air when we got closer to getting into town. I woke up the next morning and I noticed that my 1-year-old-son's voice was really worse. From 24 to 48 hours after that, everybody in my family started having symptoms, including my animals.

The first day home, I bathed myself in the water and brushed my teeth with the water, I'm not bathing my children in the water. After I was told the water was safe, I gave them a bath. And they broke out in a horrific rash all over their bodies. I see multiple other residents whose children are getting rashes also. I develop multiple canker sores inside of my mouth. I've never had a canker sore in my entire life. 

I definitely believe that there's something going on with the water, even though it's testing OK. I don't know if they're failing to test for the chemicals that they should be. I'm not a scientist. All I know is what I'm seeing with my own eyes and feeling in my own body. 

As far as the air, there are certain times today where the air seems absolutely fine. There's other time of the day where a smell will come through. It is like a burning, plastic, chlorine, sweet type of smell. As soon as I can actually smell that terrible odor, I feel that my symptoms that I'm having and my children's symptoms ramp up by three. 

And the most ominous thing is that it seems the smell gets awful once the sun goes down. And it makes many of us residents question what they are doing down there at night that is causing that smell to become increasingly more prevalent in the air at night.

GT: It was only after many days of the derailment that big US media started to pay attention to it and report on it. Why?

DeSanzo: I think that Norfolk Southern had some humbleness in their hearts when they found out that train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Because I feel that they view us as a poor town full of stupid people, a town full of hillbillies, which I think they have learned we are definitely not. We are a town full of respected individuals, educated individuals. And we were not going to allow Norfolk Southern to sweep this under the rug. I think that they did everything in their power along with the government to keep this from going mainstream media.

I think that's evident by Evan Lambert, the only national correspondent to be here for Governor Mike DeWine's press conference was arrested. I've never heard of something like that in my life either. I honestly believe that it was all of us residents coming together and being EP (East Palestine) strong and uniting as a force to say, "hey, we need help up here. We're going to put a spotlight on you guys because we already know that you're lying to us. You're not being truthful with your words. And we're going to hold your feet to the fire and make you accountable for what you guys have done." I think without a media presence, that doesn't push them hard to do the right thing. It's important that this story isn't just covered in the United States. I believe it's important for this story to be covered nationwide.

I want people to see our kids sad, I want people to see me crying, I want people to see me throwing bricks in this water that they say safe and see all the oil come to the top. I want reporters to come here and even though it's terrible, when they leave say, "hey, I was in East Palestine for two hours and I have a terrible headache," because it gives validity, and it backs up what every single person in this town is saying. And it makes us seem more credible, and it keeps the story alive.

GT: How long will the pollution of air, water and earth caused by the train derailment last?

DeSanzo: Honestly I hate to say this, but I believe that we are going to be dealing with this for generations to come. I think that Norfolk Southern did not do the right thing in the days preceding this train derailment. I believe, by them leaving those toxic materials, hundreds and thousands of gallons of oil to just sink into our soil even further, I think by doing the controlled burn, it was the cheapest solution - maybe not the only one nor the safest and they polluted our air. And I think that there are far-, long-reaching consequences to the choices that they made and the choices that they continue to make by not cleaning that up appropriately. And we know that's true, because the EPA went in, and basically to ignore it, they did not clean up that site. 

So that way there tells me exactly how long this is going to affect me and the residents of East Palestine. I believe that if Norfolk would have stood up and did the right thing, from the minute this happened, it possibly could have gone away at some point. But because they have been neglectful, because they put profit over people, and because they thought that they were just going to be able to sweep this under the rug, they were negligent and they didn't care what was gonna happen. And they thought that they would get their train tracks built and trains were going to run through here. And that's all they cared about. And that's not what happened. And now they're being held accountable for their actions. And the sad thing is, as I hope that they realize that 20 years from now, when women are losing their uterus, when women can't have children, when people are dying from kidney disease, lung cancer, liver cancer, I really hope that they would look back and realize that what they've done here is an absolute shame.

GT: You set up a donation on the platform of Give Send Go, hoping to bring your children to other places. Do you think the government could provide any help? 

It should be the government's job to take care of people who want to relocate for the time being so that they can protect their children. That's not what's happening. I shouldn't have to be raising my own money. I shouldn't have to be asking for donations from other people either. I should be getting help from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). And by them not giving us that help, I can say what's going on here is crossing the line of being neglectful to criminal. 

There are some types of cheap, temporary housing for the residents who are having symptoms, the residents whose children are sick and just don't feel safe. Why? They're doing the cleanup here. And they relocate us into temporary housing at no cost to us. That's why we pay taxes as Americans. So if there is a disaster, we have governmental services to come in and aid with help. But when we had to evacuate our house, they said that people were refusing to leave. That's a lie. People were not refusing to leave. It's that people don't have the means to leave.

I've worked my entire life. I was a single mother for 16 years, and I raised my three younger children all by myself. It's very hard for Appalachian people to ask for a handout.

But that's what the government and what Norfolk Southern have forced me to do, because they are refusing to provide me with the help that I should be entitled to. If a United States citizen goes to a government official or goes to a corporation that is basically poisoning them and says my children are sick, my children have not been well for going on 20 days, do you not think that it's my right as the United States citizen to get some kind of aid or some kind of assistance to help me so that I can protect my children? They're not helping, they're leaving me with my hands tied.

GT: The US always claims to be a guardian of human rights, and criticizes the human rights of other countries. What's your take on this?

DeSanzo: As of what I've seen go on here in my town, I don't think the US government has any right to judge others on how they take care of their citizens. The treatment that has been handed down to the folks here in East Palestine is absolutely horrendous.  

GT: What's your expectation for the Chinese media in reporting the derailment accident?

DeSanzo: I think that makes them tremble in their boots. Our town is so tiny. It's just crazy to see how much coverage it just has. But I think that the Chinese media can play a huge role and help Norfolk do the right thing, helping even spread coverage further. Like I said, when companies, government, elected officials see that they're being watched by not only the United States, but by media sources from other countries, it forces their hand.

And my biggest thing is what I would want from the Chinese media is don't let us be forgotten, because that is my biggest fear with the media and the US. Things happen so quickly that one day, this is a headline, the next day, the headline is something new.

And I can't stress the importance of us not being forgotten, because I believe as soon as the pressure is left off of these corporations by these elected officials, they're going to slack and they're going to falter, they're not going to follow through on their promises that they've made to this town and all the residents there.

Please keep fighting for us. Don't let us be forgotten. I think that this is far from over. And I think that we have a long battle ahead of us. And I think that with the news coverage that's going on, that will protect our citizens more. I would love for the Chinese media to keep East Palestine's name in the headlines and keep us in your prayers and help us fight the good fight.

Liu Zixuan contributed to the story.

Support Candice's family here: https://www.givesendgo.com/G9U19?utm_source=twitter