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While environmental racism, urban renewal, gentrification, intimidation, and relocation tactics have been wielded against Black Americans for decades, the majority-White residents of East Palestine, Ohio, now find themselves living under hazardous conditions — and they’re not taking it without a fight.
During a Wednesday night CNN town hall, residents made their voices known in vociferous condemnation of the spill and aftermath that has rocked their homes.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a preliminary investigation of the derailment found that a wheel bearing on one of the train cars’ wheels overheated and failed in the moments prior to the devastating accident on Feb. 3.
East Palestine victims blame state officials to their face
Every American citizen deserves to be live in a clean and thriving community, free of poisonous lead, oil, and water. However, when an unexpected tragedy befalls White Americans, it’s often covered by the national media with much more scrutiny, accountability, and consistency.
Weeks after the spill and subsequent fire, CNN has provided multiple platforms for the afflicted residents to confront officials, express anger and concern over the short-term effects of breathing in toxic fumes and the long-term effects of now-burned oil seeping into their ground.
When White Americans are affected, media members often do more than simply cover the news, but serve as a conduit to the answers all Americans deserve when unthinkable environmental hazards strike their community.
It’s not to suggest CNN and other major outlets do not send reporters, talk to community members, and report daily. However, the intentionality and urgency is reflective of the same media bias which has led to underreported missing Black girls and women for decades.
Black families in Jackson and Flint never got the chance to address their representatives on the national media
While Gov. Mike DeWine (R) took a verbal lashing from East Palestine community members, comparatively, in 2022 residents of Jackson, Mississippi, a majority-Black city, were trolled by their governor.
In front of a crowd of majority-White supporters, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said that it was, as always, “a great day to not be in Jackson,” the capital city that had been facing a water crisis after flooding in the Pearl River damaged its water system.
Though Norfolk Southern’s CEO Alan Shaw defended his company’s actions since the disaster and promised the railroad will pay for the cleanup and a fraction of its worth to citizens of East Palestine, Black residents of Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi, have been left to rely on good samaritans and life-saving water donations for years.
Two weeks later, the governor and EPA Director Michael S. Regan had no problem drinking the water, but residents say a sip is far from a solution.
The Environmental Protection Agency told Norfolk Southern to take all available measures to clean up contaminated air and water, and also said the company would be required to reimburse the federal government for a new program to provide cleaning services for impacted residents and businesses.
East Palestine was suddenly thrown into chaos that night when a 150-car Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals and other materials suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure, hurtling the cars off the tracks.
It was later discovered the 150-car train derailment was the result of preventable safety issues that workers had been cautioning their employers about for years.
Norfolk Southern officials conducted a controlled burn of the chemicals on February 6, venting the gas into a trench and torching it, releasing a massive column of black smoke high into the air above East Palestine.
The gas has been linked to an “increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer,” called hepatic angiosarcoma, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Five of the cars on the train were carrying a chemical called vinyl chloride, a colourless, hazardous, and flammable gas used in the production of PVC plastic and vinyl products.
Those cars were not breached, but officials feared that fires resulting from the crash could ignite the cars, causing a dangerous explosion.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw pledged Tuesday the freight railroad will spend $6.5 million to help those affected by the release of toxic chemicals from its derailment nearly three weeks ago in East Palestine, Ohio.
But in a plan released earlier this year, the company said it’s planning to spend more than a thousand times that amount — $7.5 billion — to repurchase its own shares in order to benefit its shareholders.
CNN reports the company spent $3.4 billion on share repurchases last year, and $3.1 billion in 2021, bringing its recent share repurchases to $6.5 billion.
That towers over what it said is its financial commitment to East Palestine, which it said exceeds $6.4 million in direct aid to families and government agencies.
There is no estimate as to the total cost to Norfolk Southern from the derailment, including the cost of cleanup that the Environmental Protection Agency says will be the railroad’s responsibility.
By February 8 residents were told they could return to their homes following a mandatory evacuation. However, two days later the EPA sent a letter to Norfolk Southern detailing the other hazardous materials that were being carried on the train.
More than a week later, information is still trickling out about what exactly happened and what risk the 5,000 residents of East Palestine — and the millions in the surrounding region — may face as a result of the crash.