In East Palestine, Ohio, where train derailed, anxiety and distrust are running deep

By | February 15, 2023

The New York Times reports:

All around the once-thriving industrial town in the quiet hills of eastern Ohio, there were signs this week of business as usual. Schools were in session, restaurants were serving lunch and trains were again barreling along the tracks that cross Market Street.

But all around, too, were signs that nothing was normal at all. People sniffed the water coming out of their taps, checked rashes in the mirror and gazed down into creeks at the green-white shoals of fish and frogs floating belly up. The smell lingered, reminding some of a tire fire, others of burning plastic, mixed with model airplane glue or nail polish remover.

Nearly two weeks after a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, and a controlled burn of toxic chemicals it was carrying forced hundreds of residents to evacuate the area for days, the normal for many here was dread.

“It’s always kind of been a comforting sound,” Traci Mascher, who is raising three of her grandchildren in the town, said of the wail of the trains as they rattled through. “And now it’s a horrifying sound.”

As dusk fell on Tuesday, she and her husband, Greg, took their granddaughters to a park so they could sit on a bench and think. Other families were sending their children back to school this week, but the Maschers’ girls had broken out in rashes in recent days, and they wondered what dangers to their health might linger throughout the town. Neighbors were returning to their houses, but they had seen firsthand the monstrous plume over the rooftops and had not spent a night at home since.

The Maschers had been in East Palestine for three generations, and Mr. Mascher, 61, now spoke of it like a foreign land. “I’m lost,” he said. “Totally lost.”

Perhaps the most frightening thing for the town’s roughly 4,700 residents is how much remains unknown, and whether dangers that may be addressed in the short term will pose a threat years down the line. Experts have warned that understanding the causes and consequences could require a more comprehensive investigation than what has taken place so far. [Continue reading…]

Motherboard reports:

Over the past several years, Motherboard has reported that Norfolk Southern’s lax safety practices have been applied to its entire network, reflecting a trend happening across the freight rail industry. But the two workers Motherboard spoke to this week said 32N in particular was a known safety risk. Like airline flight numbers, railroads assign the same train number to different physical trains that run the same routes on a repetitive schedule. 32N, which travels from outside St. Louis to the edge of Pittsburgh, has a reputation.

On the run that ended abruptly on the outskirts of East Palestine, multiple red flags, including two mechanical problems, about 32N went undetected or were ignored in the hours leading up to the crash, according to the two workers familiar with the train. These red flags were especially concerning, said these workers, because 32N is widely known among workers as a difficult train to run, not because of especially difficult terrain or equipment, but as a result of management decisions about how the train would be put together.

As a result, 32N has a nickname among some rail workers. It is common for trains to have nicknames in the railroad industry, but, as one worker told Motherboard, the nicknames are given “for a reason.” They call this one “32 Nasty.” [Continue reading…]

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