Jim Crawford: Failures could impact East Palestine for generations

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2023

There is nothing very special about East Palestine, Ohio …unless you have lived there as part of a very close small-town community where neighbors have known each other a lifetime, from grade school to the cemetery. 

And for those folks, there is everything special about the place they have always called “Home.”

So what is happening to a place that deserves so much better, is difficult to observe, hard to understand, and frightening to consider. 

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The ”event,” the toxic derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in the middle of town, is not over and may not be over for decades. 

The derailment caused spills of super-toxic chemicals into the soil, the air and the water. Before that fateful day, Feb. 3 2023, East Palestine was a town with a pure water table, good fishing and a quality of air that only occurs in small towns where heavy industry has not set up shop. But, now, so much of that has been lost when all of it could have been prevented. 

Today, in East Palestine, you will have a hard time selling your house, even if you discount it 50 percent off its previous value, because no one knows the long-term effects on the community. 

Today, it is difficult to get folks to eat at your restaurant for fear of breathing in life-altering chemicals. 

It is hard to get people to buy your beef cattle for fear that the animals are compromised by the spill of toxins. And it will be hard to get the kids back to the public pool this summer with their parents concerned that the assurances they have been given cannot be trusted. 

The railroad president has told the people of East Palestine that the company will help the town for as long as it takes. 

Yet, when asked if the railroad will replace the lost value to the homes, the farms and the businesses, the CEO looks away and refuses to commit. When asked if the railroad will be there with free medical care and testing for the long-term, decades ahead, again, the CEO stares blankly into the distance and offers nothing.  

The reason he is silent on these issues is that the Norfolk Southern railroad sees East Palestine as the cost of doing business, at the lowest cost the railroad has to pay. 

The evidence of this cynicism stands in front of the residents of East Palestine. 

First, the overheated bearing that likely caused the derailment did not set off a safety alarm when it was 70 degrees over ambient temperature, nor when it was 107 degrees over ambient temperature, but only when it was 200-plus degrees over ambient temperature and on fire.

Only then did an alarm appear, and the engineers attempted to stop the train traveling just under 50 miles an hour, the maximum speed allowed. But the train was too long, with more than 150 cars, and stopping the train took too long to prevent the derailment.

 All of these failures are about greed. 

There should have been more heat monitors on the tracks approaching East Palestine and warnings before 200 degrees hot.

The train should have been going more slowly through populated areas, but time is money, so it went at near maximum speed. And the large number of cars keeps the costs down and the risk up, that is OK with the railroad. 

If you need more evidence of what is important to the railroad and what is not, consider that the railroad laid new track down over the highly toxic soil of the spill, because running trains through East Palestine is more important to them than polluted soil and water. 

I grew up seven miles from East Palestine, and I admire the people there who are fighting for their rights and their community. We should all stand beside them. 

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.