On Feb. 3, a 150-car train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, releasing caustic chemicals and other hazardous materials into the environment, including the carcinogenic gas vinyl chloride. After the initial explosion from the derailment, officials decided to release and burn the remaining chemicals in a controlled manner, to prevent a more deadly impact if left unmitigated . The incident led to the evacuation of 4,700 residents, a black plume of toxic fumes to tower over the region and uncontrolled carcinogens to enter the soil and local waterways. This is surely one of the most disruptive environmental disasters in recent American history.
We should all understand this as what it is: an environmental catastrophe. Though the full extent of the environmental damage has yet to be ascertained, the chemicals have already gotten into waterways: According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, as of Feb. 8, seven and a half miles of streams had been affected and the spill had killed around 3,500 fish.
The majority of Kenyon students are from the coasts, so it may be difficult for students to properly nurture conversation around this issue and realize its severity. While many consider rural towns such as East Palestine to be “the middle of nowhere,” these places are full of humanity and industry integral to society’s well being. Around 46 million people live in rural America and contribute around $2 trillion to the United States economy. Railroad systems such as Norfolk Southern’s sprawl across the country. They rely on small-town America as pass-throughs for grain, oil, chemicals and more goods that can be attributed to America’s living standard. The contributions of rural communities should not be overlooked.
Moreover, these regions should be recognized, especially as the derailment has exhibited how much American industry and success relies on them. While media attention has seemed to increase, this may be attributed to the fact that the effects are spreading across a larger region. While we are glad there is more coverage, we believe that the initial impact on East Palestine should have been covered more in depth from the start. Even more, there should be, and should have been more conversation here on the Hill. East Palestine is just about 120 miles from Knox County, and there are certainly sociocultural and socioeconomic similarities. Finally, the state of Ohio is overseeing much of the research into the effects and restoration of the area. It is on us as Ohio voters to be attentive to these efforts and use our voices accordingly.
Salvatore, Amelia and Reid
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Amelia Carnell ’23 and Salvatore Macchione ’23 and executive director Reid Stautberg ’23. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.