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"Double double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
East Palestine, Ohio, site of the toxic hell triggered by the train derailment and human malfeasance, is channeling Shakespeare's witches.
The town's air and water is percolating with vinyl chloride and chemical warfare gasses. Animals frothing. Pets in paroxysms. Birds dropping from the skies. Residents acutely sickened.
And mere days after the disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency assured them that they are sitting pretty, can take deep cleansing breaths and hydrate with drinking water harboring potions used in the trenches of World War I and banned by the Geneva Convention.
The EPA is channeling the former Macbethian witch and former EPA Administrator Christine Whitman, who before the next sabbath after the World Trade Center conflagration, stroked us with her word of honor that the gargantuan pit of incinerated building material, asbestos, metal and flesh was a peachy keen venue for frolicking kids?
She practically celebrated it as a setting for family barbecues, yoga classes and tourism.
Whitman, who has since risen from her past prime into present obscurity, delivered her pep talk with a stiff-upper lip and genteel aplomb consistent with her hoity-toity breeding. She owns more square mileage than the Netherlands, could snap up Buckingham Palace with pocket change and awesomely assert her street cred by reminding us that her Scottish terrier is the mother of former president George W. Bush's hound.
The EPA has an inviolable protocol for tallying the particulates of basset hound poop that lurk in post-cloudburst puddles, but they ain't much bothered about the choking agent phosgene and volatile plastics in the lungs of East Palestine children.
So far as the government is concerned, these kids can chill out on chocolate malted milk with cherry syrup, whipped cream and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene with added dyes to preserve freshness.
As for the East Palestine water: it's fit for a CEO's Jacuzzi.
"I'm asking they trust the government,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. I don't know whether he kept a straight face saying it, but I suspect I got whiplash from throwing my head back with repulsion and laughter upon hearing it.
It is estimated that almost 10 percent of the country’s population may eventually be affected by the consequences of the derailment. According to expert Sil Caggiano, "we basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad again.”
Aircraft and trains are required to have a detailed cargo manifest, but allegedly trains are not bound to have a comprehensive itemization in each car.
The industrialists at Norfolk Southern, after a nanosecond of meticulous reflection, dispatched a train, (which had broken down a few weeks earlier) with 151 cars, 9,300 feet long, weighing 18,000 tons and carrying ultra-hazardous, combustible cargo.
It was a decision prompted by the business commandment to stop at nothing to save costs. A corporate rationale as old as the hills.
After the derailment, when the risk of explosion was deemed significant, they deigned to release the lethal chemicals into the air. "Wake up and smell the dioxinized coffee,” one can imagine the bosses chuckling.
Norfolk Southern's revenues exceeded $12 billion last year. They originally announced a $25,000 donation to the stricken community, presumably as payback for their inconvenience. East Palestine's population is around 5,000. That amounts to around $5 per head. Eventually they upped it to $1,000. More than enough for a down payment on a pine casket.
Corporate penance unplugged.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had earlier noted that derailments occur a thousand times a year and that this particular mishap was drawing a "high amount of attention.” He did not visit the site for three weeks, but then, because of optics-related duress, rather than the emotional and intestinal duress of the poor folks of East Palestine, he penciled in a stopover. The president is so far mum on paying his respects to the residents face-to-face.
Salon, the politically progressive website, citing The Lever's David Sirota, claims "the transportation secretary is actively considering an industry-backed proposal to further weaken the regulation of train-braking systems.”
Although this specific issue doesn't bear directly on East Palestine, it implies that pro-industry excesses are not limited to conservatives.
After weeks of declining to do so, on the grounds that they are only interested when there is "tremendous home of property damage,” FEMA is finally getting involved. No tornadoes, no flooding, no hurricanes? No dice!
Critics speculate that they are indifferent to the Appalachian democratic of "fly-over country.” This needs to be refuted. Retroactive action is better than none. The optics reek of revolting insensitivity.
Former President Donald Trump targeted the EPA for budget cuts, but even former President Barack Obama ultimately submitted to corporate pressure, according to Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project.
President Joe Biden's Department of Transportation "has no intention of reinstating or strengthening the brake rule rescinded under Trump. Additionally … the train was not being regulated as a high-hazard flammable train, despite it clearly being both high-hazard and flammable. These types of failure to protect the public are invited by perpetual lax enforcement and laziness toward even getting back to the too-low regulatory standards under Obama.”
Those who doubt Norfolk Southern's simpatico for the dioxinized residents of East Palestine, take heart: from their corporate treasury they hired the infrastructure consulting firm AECOM to test the water. Their scientific finding, somewhat exaggerated, is that it might have been high-end Champagne.
But as reported in Salon, "one aquatic ecologist told Huffington Post, the lab report indicates several testing errors that violated federal standards and should have disqualified the results.” Hydrogeologist David Erickson "called the sampling 'sloppy' and 'amateur'.”
Many East Palestine residents are already getting green around the gills and it's not a collective allergy to dust mites. The fact that their median income and political clout are below average may translate into eligibility for official neglect.
All East Palestine residents should be enrolled in a Zadroga-like program and their health monitored and medical treatment provided free of charge to them. They should also receive legal counsel to warn them against Norfolk Southern's predictable enticements to accept chump change as "payment in full" and the victims must not be seduced by corporate deceit into giving up their right to sue.
Many more firefighters and police officers died over the 20 years from illness directly caused by the World Trade Center terror attacks than immediately from the twin towers' collapse. This bitter phenomenon will be replicated in East Palestine.
Why was the train's cargo not accurately described and therefore able to skirt reporting requirements, as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine alleges? Norfolk Southern refused to attend a town meeting of residents. Let's consider it a boycott.
The railroad is answerable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. According to a class action lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, cited by The New York Times, Norfolk Southern dumped 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride.
The government is adept at insulting our intelligence. That yields an opening for the railroad to exploit. After some perfunctory tests coughed up some fragmentary potential data about the air and water quality in East Palestine, the gingerly worded tentative conclusion was, to paraphrase, that the whole snafu was a tempest in a teapot.
Michael Barasch, a prominent attorney specializing in WTC cases, feels the EPA has lost its credibility, citing its post-9/11 pronouncements and the Obama-era Gold King Mine Spill in Colorado, which the EPA allegedly caused.
The air of East Palestine stinks like a million decomposing elephants and the water has a macabre rainbow sheen. EPA Administrator Michael Regan's plea: "I'm asking they trust the government.”
The moral atmosphere of our nation is no better than the air over East Palestine unless the guilty individuals, not merely the inanimate corporation, are prosecuted, found guilty and punished in proportion to the havoc they wrought.
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