Thousands of Fish Found Dead After Ohio Train Derailment

    Photo: AP [via CNN]

    The Facts

    • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Monday that the train derailment and spillage of toxic chemicals in East Palestine on Feb. 3 has killed at least 3.5K fish — primarily small suckers, minnows, darters, and sculpin — in the Leslie Run stream.

    • The confirmation comes days after a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride — a colorless and highly flammable gas used to make PVC plastics, which decomposes into toxic fumes — went off the tracks and burst into flames in north-eastern Ohio, stoking fears of a potential explosion.

    The Spin

    Narrative A

    This accident raises questions about the rail transportation of vinyl chloride and brings rail safety in general under scrutiny. It also serves as a huge wake-up call to Americans living in close proximity to rail lines about the potential risks they face. The federal government's lax regulations on and inspections of the rail industry have enabled risks to rise — safety improvements must be made through the enforcement of proper protocols, checks, and balances.

    Narrative B

    Rail is the safest transport option for the movement of chemicals compared with truck travel. Rail transport experiences just 10% of the accidents that occur in truck transport, and those accidents are on the decline by as much as 33%. Nonetheless, higher investments in rail networks can improve safety performance, while investment in community relations can also help build trust between the public, railroads, and transportation safety agencies.

    Narrative C

    The real issue here is the response to the disaster. Vinyl chloride is a serious health hazard, and authorities failed to deal with the chemical spill properly, simply covering the contaminated soil after burning without proper assessment. Vinyl chloride, however, is highly mobile in soil and risks eventually leaching into groundwater. It's not a question of if there will be a problem, but simply when it will occur and how bad it will be.

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