There’s Something About Trains, Really – Health Blog


Like many of you, when I heard about the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, OH on February 3rd, my heart went out to the people of that community. The train was carrying some hazardous materials, and no one was sure what was vented, especially when officials were doing a “controlled burn.” However, I didn’t think much of it. even though i live in ohio, i’m as far away as you can be within the state.

Yesterday, my local water company shut off the water from the Ohio River. “We are taking this precautionary step to ensure the health, safety and confidence of residents,” said Cincinnati Mayor Aftab. (Note: it reopened access today).

East Palestine is not very close to the Ohio River, but whatever chemicals found their way into local streams eventually began to reach it, and their “plume” slowly wound its way 400 miles downstream. Initially, the water company noted how small the particle levels were, far below any danger, and that normal filtration processes would save them. Then they announced they would add a second filtering step, just in case. I guess people weren’t relieved because they still closed the reception desks, if only for a day.

I can only imagine how worried the people of East Palestine must be.

The scary thing is that this derailment was not a rare occurrence. About 1,000 accidents occur each year. Fortunately, most do not involve dangerous substances or lead to death. If it’s any consolation, and it shouldn’t be, most hazardous material spills come from trucks, not trains (but then again, trucks carry the most cargo). The odds are against bad things happening. But with 1.7 trillion ton miles of freight transported by train each year, the odds eventually lead to East Palestine (and since East Palestine, both Houston and Detroit have had hazardous materials train accidents).

When I first heard about the derailment, I assumed it was poorly maintained tracks. Although rail infrastructure received a “B” on the most recent Civil Engineer Report Card, the US has a history of underinvesting in infrastructure despite the recent bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Freight companies claim to invest about $20 billion a year in capital expenditures and maintenance, including trains and tracks, but when I see rail or freight trains on them, I’m usually not too surprised; both seem to have been there for fifty years.

There was also speculation that the crash was caused by the more modern Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, which the rail industry successfully blocked regulations requiring in 2017, but it appears the wheel overheated and failed.

One thing critics point to is that Norfolk Southern just posted record profits and had $18 billion in stock buybacks and dividends over the past five years, while seeing an increase in accidents. They are not alone.

“Railroads have fought for years against all kinds of basic safety rules — modern braking systems, stronger explosives tanks, even information about trains passing through communities — on the argument that protecting our lives is simply too expensive. , health and our air and water,” said Kristen Boyles, managing attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. The New York Times. “It’s disgusting to find that at the same time these companies have made massive shareholder payouts.”

Mind you, these are the same railroads that don’t give their workers sick leave, whose scheduling policies make Amazon look good, and who only averted a railroad strike last December when Congress stepped in.

Look, it could have been worse. The train could carry liquefied natural gas (LNG). Adele Peters, c Fast Company, warns. “In an accident, one train car filled with LNG can create a fireball up to a mile wide and send debris flying; 22 tank cars filled with LNG have as much energy as the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. And there are many other hazardous materials traveling through our communities that we will only know about when their train derails.

Despite all this, freight trains are probably safer than trucks (although when an accident occurs, trains with trains will be worse). Our society could not exist without the goods that transport them and the materials needed to make them. I just wish we prioritized safety more than profit.

Then again, engineers warn that our roads and bridges are crumbling, our airports and ports are a disgrace, our dams and levees are failing, our hazardous materials are poorly stored, and our water systems are too old. We live on Third World infrastructure and don’t seem to care.

One of my local news channels noted that while the water company has closed the access due to concerns about toxics from the derailment, there are about 37,000 water lines in the local area that have lead pipes that put people at greater risk. The water supply believes that it will take another thirty years to replace them. Out of sight, out of mind.

We respond to disasters in the short term, but are terrible at investing in the long term to prevent or minimize them. Despite the hype at the time, neither Jackson, MS nor Flint, MI still have safe, reliable water after their respective disasters. Houston is still at serious risk of future flooding despite the 2017 disaster. Pick a disaster, fast forward a few years, and how often have major changes been made as a result?

And of course, it’s only fair to say that we both could have handled COVID better than we did, or could have done a lot more to prepare for the next pandemic, but if anything, we’re less prepared. than before. hit Planning, preparation, public health and safety are not our strong suits.

I understand that accidents will always happen. Sometimes bad things happen. I understand that more regulations won’t stop everyone. I understand that there are probably a lot of regulations in general. I hope the Infrastructure Act starts to rot soon. But, come on, how many East Palestinians does it take for us to take our health care more seriously?

how NYT: “It shouldn’t take a chemical cloud over a community in the American heartland to force the government to protect its people.” Amen.

Kim is the former head of emarketing at Blues Masterplan, editor of the late and lamented, and now a regular contributor to THCB.

Source link