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  • Writer's pictureJack Metz

Total Train Wreck

It has been more than a year since the train derailment in East Palestine caused untold levels of environmental devastation within the Ohio Valley. If you believe the bureaucrats administering the response effort, conditions there returned to acceptably normal just a few days after the accident. They even have a battery of tests to supposedly prove it.

So why have hundreds of residents suffered through some of the worst afflictions imaginable?

I drove to the region to find out. What I discovered will disgust you...

Combustible Situation

When I first pitched this story, my focus centered on determining if a crash that happened mere yards from the border between two states would be reimbursed equitably. Plainly speaking, I hypothesized that people in Pennsylvania were getting screwed because the chemicals technically leaked in Ohio... even though, based on prevailing winds, residents of towns like Darlington, PA bore the brunt of the toxic plume that emanated from the "controlled" burn.

I soon realized that the cartographic split barely mattered. The real crux is infinitely more pressing. Namely, how has every level of government callously failed to deal with the horrific health aftermath these communities have been saddled with?

Hazardous Materials

Most Americans have no idea how bad life has been for individuals who call this corner of the country home. It's not an exaggeration to say that these folks are living through a nightmare. From the very first hours after the major mishap, locals have worried about the repercussions of chemical exposure. Their fears were clearly justified -- considering the area quickly saw a huge uptick in respiratory, dermatological, and neurological problems. As if that wasn't awful enough, each passing day brings additional anxiety that things are being made worse by staying.

How do I know this? One of these families was kind enough to invite me into their living room for a few hours to discuss the horrors faced by everyone who was unable to move away permanently.

Lori and Wayne O'Connell are deep-rooted residents of Darlington who live under four miles away from the crash site. This distance is important because it positions them slightly outside of the two-mile evacuation zone that was declared on the day the intentional burn began. Ignoring a local administrator's questionable "shelter in place" recommendation and a 3:18pm countywide text message (which conveyed what appeared to be a contradictory radius of only one mile), the O'Connells played it safe and left town until late that night.

When they returned home to go to sleep, the air had a palpable taste and smell. Within days, the headaches began. Drinking from their tap led to mouth sensations ranging from tingling to burning. By March, their 24-year-old daughter (who had been at work on February 6th) was experiencing nausea and vomiting so severe that she is still forced to take medication designed to avoid recurrent episodes. Come May, Wayne was diagnosed with a chest lump that required him to get a double mastectomy two months later. That was followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and a looming reality of Tamoxifen coursing through his veins for the next decade.

It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to connect these clues. Everything about the timing lines up... even the mice have disappeared. [They used to trap a mouse or two per week in their farmhouse before the Ohio incident. As of late April 2024, they hadn't caught one in more than 365 days.]

Yet, people like the O'Connells feel railroaded by the very agencies claiming to be in the community to help. After researching and listening to what locals have endured, I 100% agree.

Burning Money

The bureaus on site appear to care far more about guaranteeing their own seats on the government-funded gravy train than they do about compensating families that deserve to be made whole. It's not just a select group of bad actors either... it honestly seems like the worlds of medicine, science, and politics have made conscious decisions to give a bunch of citizens in dire straits the shaft.

Medical Indications

Early on, the Pennsylvania Department of Health hosted derailment-centric webinars for health care providers. That would sound reasonable if I didn't also add that Mrs. O'Connell felt like she was being steered away from her longtime doctor during a phone screen with his receptionist. [Toward a pop-up health clinic that was allegedly notorious for communicating to neighbors that their problems were related to allergies and colds.]

On top of that, she requested to be tested for vinyl chloride, the actual chemical contained in the damaged freight cars. She was denied. Thankfully, her chiropractor was willing and able to order the lab work for her and her family. When those results came back, the vinyl chloride (and benzene) numbers were highly alarming. All three members of their household were above the allowable limit. Wayne's readings were truly scary, registering at nearly four times that threshold.

With this information fresh in her mind, she went to a May 2023 meeting in East Palestine where a CDC rep allegedly told those in attendance something like: "we cannot rid you of the vinyl chloride (in your bodies), but we can treat the cancer that you're gonna get from it." {That's a direct quote from Lori trying to repeat what this official said, to the best of her recollection.}

Please understand that vinyl chloride was but one of many carcinogens introduced into the habitat last February. In addition to the aforementioned benzene (which OSHA deems problematic at one part per million), butyl acrylate, hydrogen chloride, and phosgene found their way into the air, water, soil, and surfaces. Phosgene is particularly noteworthy given its role as the primary killing gas deployed in WW1.

Then there are the dioxins. I could dedicate a book to the disasters caused by these pollutants. Only by operating under the assumption that 'experts' would rather skip testing than come clean does it make sense why dioxins are inexplicably treated as an afterthought in situations like this. For instance, it took the unplanned release of a damning document years after a deluge of known dioxin exposure for the EPA to get the wheels in motion that eventually led to the permanent abandonment of Times Beach, Missouri.

Scientific Methods

That type of cavalier bureaucratic behavior couldn't happen again, could it? Sadly, yes it could. When a government contractor came to the O'Connell's property to test the soil, he included a disclaimer in his introduction: "We don't test for dioxins." Whether his intention in revealing that tidbit came from a heartfelt place or a callous one is almost immaterial. What matters is that standard protocol encourages administrators to toss the whole dioxin category into a 'preexisting conditions' box without addressing them. It unequivocally offers agents an easy out when families ask for proof of the unique 'fingerprints' left by various dioxins on their furnace filters, for example.

In fact, abstaining from testing for predictable/known toxins is more the rule than the exception. Want to look up how much phosgene was in the air in Pennsylvania? Good luck. The state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) not only didn't include that compound on their primary dashboard, but they actually opted to skip listing atmospheric tests at all! Those in charge would likely argue they didn't need to keep looking for phosgene in the air, even when the plume was near its peak, since (paraphrasing the DEP) pollutant levels weren't harmful. Let me remind you that burning thousands of gallons of vinyl chloride guaranteed beyond a shadow of a doubt that phosgene would appear in unhealthy quantities. And not for a little while either. Phosgene, a substance listed under the Chemical Weapons Convention with a half-life of 44 years, will "persist in the atmosphere" longer than you or I will be breathing.

It's virtually impossible to believe these agencies are being fully transparent with the public. They can't get past their own FAQ sheet without contradicting themselves. [Check out what is buried in the last two pages.] Not convinced? They admitted it in real time.

I don't know how else to say it: there is a coverup transpiring around Ohio's eastern edge.

Independent testers accuse the government of digging entirely too deep into the dirt in order to miss chemical accumulation in the topsoil. Authorities tout using the Allegheny County Health Department to track air quality even though their monitors are 25 miles from the spill site. [See page 4.] Finally, can anyone explain why the water samples right next to the derailment didn't detect anything worth mentioning back on March 6, 2023... yet that same stretch of Sulphur Run remains an EPA cleanup calamity today?

What benefit arises from performing these critical services in such shady fashion? To me, it reeks of subterfuge meant to avoid uncovering or disclosing damning evidence.

Government Warnings

We haven't gotten to the elected politicians. Beginning at the top, President Biden very strangely waited over a year to visit East Palestine. His constant refusal to declare the derailment a disaster was also weird... but the oddest part of the saga came when EPA head Michael Regan shifted the blame to Ohio for not furnishing "the level of detail needed to pursue that." One would think his agency having boots on the ground for double-digit months would suffice. Guess not.

Then there's Congressman Chris Deluzio, a man who seems more concerned with hyping up his Railroad Safety Act than boosting the unfortunate voters in his district. A quick glance at his messaging and tactics verifies that assertion.

But is he as feckless as the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania? These two have made an art form of conflating inanimate object replacement with aiding actual humans. Yes, decontaminating emergency vehicles and repairing roads is important. But why has so little of the relief money they brag about gone to individuals whose lives have been irrevocably altered? And, for goodness' sake, why does Governor Shapiro keep referencing over and over again how he replaced one lady's eggs while his departments were recouping seven figures worth of cash? When put into context, he should be embarrassed for thinking a tiny food gesture linked to a photo op debacle demonstrates a commitment to the men and women of Pennsylvania.

Things are just as bad when drilling down to the local level. Darlington received $660,000 from Norfolk Southern, which would equate to $350+ per resident if divided squarely. A pittance -- but that amount is a lot more than the zero dollars constituents pocket as a result of the township board's decision to keep it in a savings account that will pay for --OMG-- more equipment. As Lori O'Connell suggested, "some of that money could have been given to residents." To be clear, residents did indeed seek help. She relayed a heartbreaking story of a couple forced to move after their financial assistance request for a water filtration system was rebuffed by Darlington leadership. It didn't matter that they both became violently ill after the plume or that they allegedly couldn't use their home as equity because appraisers wouldn't come out to the "red zone" created by the spill. With no recourse, their only choice was to begin anew elsewhere.

[Relevant note: neighboring Lawrence County used their money to fund a project-based grant program for this exact type of appeal... meaning a replicable template was simply spurned.]

Summary Report

Many of the facts cited here are not new. Oodles of outlets beat me to the punch when it comes to the basic reporting on the Ohio train fiasco. But how many of those journalists hounded the bureaucrats who casually proclaimed things like "there are no long-term air quality concerns related to the derailment?"

Have any of them filmed a segment that confirms the food coming out of this farm belt is up to snuff? Or are we just taking the word of talking heads who might be devoted to an unspoken code of silence, thus limiting the potential crop contamination dialogue to skeptical consumers? Nobody wants to see the agricultural sector wither fiscally; conversely, no one wants farmers to be hurt physically from unwittingly eating the produce and livestock they grow and sell.

Can you find one writer willing to broach how silly the narrative is surrounding the decision to approve the controlled burn? We're led to believe that scores of state and federal professionals deferred to the local fire chief. I've seen enough movies and am familiar with enough history to see how that could conveniently make him the lone patsy when the other NTSB shoe drops.

Don't forget about the money. Where were the veterans of the Harrisburg daily beat when Governor Shapiro, like some character out of a cautionary fable, turned roughly seven million Beaver County dollars into a few dozen omelets for the villagers unaffiliated with his regime? And will any enterprising correspondent dedicate a whole column to asking class action settlement participants if a $5,000 payout comes close to what they've lost?

Even the silver linings hovering over the OH/PA border are a veneer.

It's morbidly poetic that a story so heavily associated with lamps that measure noxious fumes would have this much gaslighting. Case in point: the photoionization detectors (PIDs) the EPA celebrates for accuracy and precision are the same class of devices an equipment supply company hinted I shouldn't bother renting because the readout doesn't differentiate between volatile organic compounds.

[Basically, if I wanted to gauge how much phosgene was in the air, the 11.7eV lamp could detect it but couldn't separate it out from the other 130+ compounds the PID recognized.]

For the sake of every family affected by this ongoing chemical catastrophe, we need to spread the word about the rank injustice occurring around East Palestine. This isn't just last year's problem; it has generational reverberations. As Wayne O'Connell pleaded when discussing his three daughters' future, "What are we giving them? Is this house even safe for us to be in? We can't prove anything, and (government representatives) don't want to hear it."

Let's compel them to listen.

Note: the post above may contain commentary reflecting the author's opinion.


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