Anger Mounts in East Palestine After Train Derailment Causes Massive Chemical Spill

A chemical spill caused by a derailed Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, Ohio has become a national news story due to its scale and what critics say is the slow response from the Biden administration.


A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, causing a massive spill of hazardous chemicals and forcing authorities to start a controlled burn. The crash has become a national news story due to its scale and what critics say is the slow response from the Biden administration.

  • Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, visited East Palestine on Thursday and asked residents to “trust the government.”
  • Since Feb. 3, “residents have complained about headaches and irritated eyes and finding their cars and lawns covered in soot. The hazardous chemicals that spilled from the train killed thousands of fish, and residents have talked about finding dying or sick pets and wildlife.”
  • Regan told residents that “federal testing inside nearly 500 homes close to the derailment site shows that none of the toxic chemicals that were on the train are present in the air. Also, that testing of municipal water has found no contamination.”
  • Some of the hazardous chemicals spilled include vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, benzene, ethyl hexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. The spilled chemicals have been associated with serious health risks including cancer.
  • The day before Regan’s visit, hundreds of residents attended a forum demanding answers about what health risks remain for residents since the crash. “[Norfolk Southern] screwed up our town, they’re going to fix it,” Mayor Trent Conaway told residents. Norfolk Southern was supposed to attend, but pulled out last minute for “security reasons.”
  • The controlled burn sent a massive plume of smoke into the sky and burned for five days before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine cleared residents to return to their homes. Cleanup continues along the Ohio River.
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is again under fire after the latest transportation snafu in his “tumultuous two-year tenure,” as the Washington Examiner put it.
  • Buttigieg failed to respond publicly to the derailment for ten days, only to break his silence on Tuesday to brag about the “progress” he’s achieved for rail safety during his tenure. Buttigieg also blamed Trump for the crash after Trump withdrew a braking-safety rule in 2018, even though the Biden administration has taken no action to reinstate it and it wouldn’t have applied in this scenario anyway.
  • “We deserve better than this,” former Ohio Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner tweeted after Buttigieg’s statement. Historic flight disruptions and last year’s narrowly averted rail strike were also widely blamed on the Secretary of Transportation, whose only previous government service was as a small-town mayor.
  • The East Palestine derailment is just one of a spate of major transportation accidents to make national news over the last few weeks. A second train derailed in Splendora, Texas after hitting an 18-wheeler that was crossing the railroad, killing the truck driver. A third derailment occurred in Enoree, South Carolina, but authorities are still investigating the cause.
  • Another train derailment – at least the fourth in the last two weeks – occurred yesterday in Detroit when a train carrying hazardous materials partially came off the tracks. No hazardous materials appeared to leak.
  • Meanwhile in Florida, a plant nursery in Osceola County was engulfed in a massive fire. In Tucson, a hazardous materials spill after a truck crash led to the implementation of evacuation and shelter-in-place orders, which have since been lifted.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • NBC News reported residents’ fears of detrimental health effects from the spill have only grown since the disaster. The EPA has reassured residents it’s safe to return home, but many are understandably hesitant.
  • To address these concerns, the federal government will send medical experts to East Palestine, according to CNN. These experts will assess residents’ remaining dangers and conduct regular air and water testing.
  • “It’s totally wrecked our life,” one East Palestine resident told the BBC. “I’m at the point now where I want out of here,” he continued. “We’re going to relocate. We can’t do it no more.”


  • Fox News reported the Biden administration has denied Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s request for federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA claims the incident doesn’t qualify as a disaster as it’s not a natural disaster like a tornado or hurricane.
  • The Wall Street Journal published a “visual breakdown” of the toxic chemicals spilled in East Palestine. The Journal compiled satellite imagery, maps, and diagrams to help readers contextualize the sheer scale of the area affected by the chemical spill.
  • Breitbart fact-checked a recent claim from Buttigieg blaming former President Donald Trump for the train disaster for withdrawing a proposed braking rule in 2018. Breitbart called the claim “false” and noted that had the rule been enacted, it would not have applied to the train that derailed in East Palestine.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023