Scene of railroad track and machinery

On Thursday night at Studio 25, a small art gallery in downtown East Palestine, a meeting hosted by River Valley Organizing was held regarding the Norfolk Southern derailment disaster. This meeting included scientists who came to town to test and attempt to explain the dangers facing the small town in Eastern Ohio, as well as residents and lots of media.

It was too packed to get in, but it was announced out loud that there were dangerous levels of toxins exposed to the area. That may seem obvious, but the railroad company hasn’t really been saying much of anything out loud or admitting to much of anything. They referred to the plastic explosive catalyzed demolition of a train car full of chemicals a “controlled release.” 

The only control they had was the detonation button. The safety and well-being of the people who live in the area doesn’t not seem to be their priority. In a town where the safety of just existing is up in the air (an activist canvassing the area was quoted as saying, “after three hours, I could feel my skin burning.”), the company offered a meager two thousand dollars for residents to permanently relocate. 

So homeowners who don’t know what the value of the property will ever be, for example, are expected to just walk away from their possessions (even the contents of homes are toxic at this point) and find someplace to live and furnish it for less than the cost of first and last month’s rent in most places. Sounds like basic corporate accountability of late. Norfolk Southern isn’t even apologetic enough to surpass 20 percent of the bottom end of five figures. 

There have been a few consiracies that people are pointing to as worrisome, many promoted on MAGA websites and social media. One is that five scientists flying to East Palestine were killed when the small jet crashed on its way. Another is that special emergency-based IDs were available late last year for residents who want to wear bracelets in case of major emergencies. There was even one person who mentioned that a mysterious balloon seen over Missouri, if one followed the velocity and flight path backward, would have been overhead at the exact moment the train derailed. 

What is clear and obvious is that there is a danger of being in proximity to all this that can manifest within hours, there is a poor job (to say it nicely) being done by the corporation at fault to take responsibility or initiative, people are in danger. The smell of the entire town is something that doesn’t fade with acclamation. Donald Trump made it to town and bought McDonald’s for all of the police and fire department—ensuring corporate profit provided by low wage labor fed a few people with clear unhealthy toxins. 

All in all, the town looks very strange. The busy parts are all big trucks carrying workers who don’t seem to mind if it is toxic or not to large trailer shaped blue metal objects with lots of hoses around. The meeting was packed but that was one of the first times anyone had offered objective science (that only some heard) to anyone actually living in the town. 

The town members seemed united against the railroad, and wary of the government. Donald Trump is not part of the government right now, and a few made it clear that they were impressed by his appearance. Many people pointed to the coincidences that seem less coincidental when combined together, but actual information is at a premium if you aren’t privy to Norfolk Southern memos because the government of even the state of Ohio seems to be treating this town with a long handled spoon. 

There was a man representing a group of comics’ philanthropic efforts (Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswald were mentioned) who had been there in nearby towns all week giving out water. He assisted a group from Columbus and Athens as a helpful place called Brightside where all were putting together bags to hand out to children. Younger activists from an environmental organization also have been canvassing heavily to find out what supplies help most. 

If you are trying to help the effort, do some research because only a few groups are actually on the ground and many have raised funds they don’t know what to do with. There is only so much water that can be bought. Some residents are hoping for indoor air filters, but they ring in at almost $500 apiece. The masks that are being given are mostly for particulate matter not chemical vapors and are not useful.