PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 74: Ohio Train Derailment

April 6, 20230

Transcript: Ohio Train Derailment

CLARICE:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.MARISA:  Hi, everybody.  I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney.

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice coming in with questions, topics, and, shoot, whatever we want to talk about this week.

MARISA:  What are we talking about?  What is the selected topic?

CLARICE:  We are talking about our favorite tragedy.  We’re talking about the Ohio train derailment and the environmental disaster — well, semi-disaster that’s ensued.

MARISA:  And that’s the issue, isn’t it?

CLARICE:  Exactly.  To be determined.

MARISA:  So the Ohio incident occurred a month ago.


MARISA:  And we didn’t do an episode about it because we were talking about other issues, but we indicated that obviously it’s a major environmental piece of news.  So a month later I think it makes sense for us to provide a status update.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I wanted to — specifically like you said, we wanted to give it a little bit of time, wait for there to be some sort of concrete news to have a conversation about it and we’ve got some parameters to have a base discussion, but there’s still a lot of questions.  So one thing I think is interesting is I’m hearing that there were two train derailments, but I’m not able to separate the two events, if that makes any sense.

MARISA:  Have they been merged into one event in the news?

CLARICE:  Yes.  I’m hearing from some sources that it was 38 train cars derailed.  I’m hearing from other sources that it was 151.  I’m hearing that there were two incidences of train derailments, but I’m only seeing one date of February 3rd.  I’m not seeing a second date.  Since the two events happened so closely there’s lots of confusion.  I was able to get information about, I believe, the first derailment.  I can talk a little bit more about the chemicals, sort of some stats that came about that and talk a little bit about the second, but I’m not quite sure when the second derailment occurred or specifically how many train cars were in each.  So that’s some sort of baseline info.

[0:03:44] MARISA:  That is bizarre.


MARISA:  Do you think it’s also reflective of what’s happening these days in our society and news media with disinformation and fake news?

CLARICE:  Well, I don’t know.  I mean, I’m sure that’s a part of it, but I’ve noticed that a lot of the reports say, you know, the Ohio derailment, or they talk about the event as if it is this isolated event.  And you would imagine for the first one, of course it is.  But for the second one, it’s not being acknowledged as the second one.  It’s not being given separate isolating language.  So in my searching I found that they kept getting overlapped and confused and the articles weren’t doing any additional work to separate them.  So the articles could be discussing —

MARISA:  That’s weird.

CLARICE:  — just one, but there wasn’t any acknowledgment that another had occurred.

MARISA:  That is strange.

CLARICE:  It is very confusing.

MARISA:  All right.  Well, tell us what you know.

CLARICE:  All right.  So the first one from my understanding happened, like we had said, about a month ago on February 3rd in East Palestine, Ohio.  Marisa, have you ever been to Ohio?

MARISA:  I have.  I couldn’t tell you where, but I’ve either driven through it or something.  And you’ve been, right?  Didn’t you take a road trip?

CLARICE:  Yes.  We went to Columbus, Ohio and outside of Columbus it’s pretty flat.

MARISA:  I remember you saying that.

CLARICE:  I was shocked at how flat it was.  I’ve been told — my sister is currently living out in Ohio and she’s traveled around the state a little bit and I’m told it looks pretty flat all over.  So in my mind East Palestine just looks plain and flat.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  But out in East Palestine, Ohio there was a train derailment.  Like I said, I don’t know if it was 38 cars or 151 train cars derailed.

MARISA:  What were in the cars?

CLARICE:  In this one — and you’re going to correct me on this, or at least I hope you can — there were two primary chemicals, vinyl chloride which is primarily used for PVC pipes —

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  — and butyl acrylate.

MARISA:  Butyl acrylate.

CLARICE:  Butyl acrylate.  And that’s primarily used in glue and paint.  So those were the two major chemicals that leaked out.  And here’s the craziest part of it.  So these chemicals start to leak as is when things crash and spill and they started to leak into the air, in the water, in the soil.  And to avoid further damage and to avoid the possibility of an uncontrolled dangerous explosion, there was a purposeful decision to create a controlled purposeful explosion to detonate the rest of the chemicals.

[0:07:03] MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  And let me tell you I have a life goal now.  I want to be in a situation where explosion is the answer and I’m not being called dramatic.

MARISA:  Yeah.  What did you call it, a controlled detonation?


MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  They said they wanted to purposefully explode everything to avoid —

MARISA:  An explosion.


MARISA:  I’m sorry.  I’m laughing.  It’s not funny.

CLARICE:  No.  But it is.

MARISA:  It’s really messed up.

CLARICE:  To avoid an explosion they caused an explosion.

MARISA:  That is wonderful.  I’m sure there is a risk analysis that was done on how to best deal with the situation.  The issue is that once you start changing the natural characteristics of pollutants they create byproducts, daughter byproducts that can be cancer causing.


MARISA:  And when you mentioned the vinyl chloride being burned, that creates a dioxin which can travel through the air and ends up embedded in soil.  And the concern is that it will make its way into the groundwater and impact the local drinking water supply.  The contamination can spread to food sources.  So just because you’ve decided to explode a pollutant doesn’t mean that you get rid of the risk.


MARISA:  It just converts into something else.

CLARICE:  And I think another good point talking about how that conversion — it’s important to know that these chemicals are completely man made.  I mean, of course at their very, very base level they have to come from some natural beginnings, but that’s way down the line.

MARISA:  Is vinyl chloride from chlorine?

CLARICE:  I couldn’t tell you that.

MARISA:  I think it is.

CLARICE:  You went to science school.

MARISA:  It’s nasty stuff.

CLARICE:  But it’s distance, distance cousins to anything natural.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  So it’s got no — at this stage it doesn’t have any sort of organic — it doesn’t have anything organic that it can assimilate to now that it’s [inaudible].

MARISA:  It won’t break down.

CLARICE:  Exactly.

MARISA:  It persists in the environment, yeah.


MARISA:  So what’s the sampling showing?

CLARICE:  So initial tests say the air is safe.  Water is safe.  Like you had hinted at, long-term effects —

MARISA:  It’s fine.  Everything’s fine.


[0:10:01] MARISA:  That’s what I say every morning.

CLARICE:  To avoid an explosion we made an explosion, but everything is okay.  The long-term effects as of right now are unknown.  One thing I thought was interesting is in one of the articles I read somebody who was — I forget.  I’ll have to go back and I’ll link all of the articles I read.  Somebody who was there doing the testing and monitoring noted that these chemicals are not forever chemicals, so they will dissipate and will break down.  Apparently they’re not known to have — I guess apparently they’re not known to have lingering or longevity.

MARISA:  But wait.

CLARICE:  I know.  I just said that they’re not natural and that they don’t have anything organic to break down into, but I’m told that they’re not a forever chemical.  I understand both things don’t make sense together.

MARISA:  Well, technically nothing is a forever chemical.  If you add time to anything, it turns into something else.  Is there more information about what they mean by a forever chemical?


MARISA:  I love that.

CLARICE:  That was the full quote on that.  Another thing to point out specifically when talking about testing the air, there was a comment that sensors at this point may not be sensitive enough to detect very low levels that are in the air, so there could be like slight trace amounts in the air that these sensors aren’t picking up and it’s unclear what long-term effects are of being around sort of low levels of that are.

MARISA:  Yeah.  And it’s interesting to me to see what the EPA did as part of its response action.  From what I’m reading it doesn’t seem like there’s been a comprehensive scope of soil sampling.  It looks like some of the objectors are saying that EPA only took two soil samples and it’s unclear at what depth they were taken.

And it doesn’t look like the federal government is doing much in the way of sampling outside of the crash site, what is the dioxin level beyond the crash site on private property and people’s gardens in the soil, that kind of thing.  So that’s been left to the state as it appears and the state’s actionable dioxin limit is quite a bit lower than the federal which means while EPA is saying the dioxin levels do not pose a threat the state is saying, yes, it does.  That’s basically what it comes down to.  So you’ve got an argument between state and federal government about what should be done.

[0:13:08] CLARICE:  Uh-huh.  And let’s talk about state and federal a little bit more, specifically shifting to water.  So from what we know as of right now, we’re being told that municipal water is still safe to drink at this point.  Again, I’m going to hit you with another contradiction.  3,500 fish died.

MARISA:  Someone went out there and counted?

CLARICE:  That’s an excellent follow-up question.

MARISA:  Thank you.  How many, 3,500?

CLARICE:  3,500.  What an internship.

MARISA:  Man.  That’s a lot.

CLARICE:  A lot of fish.  That’s a lot of fish.  As of right now from what I read state and federal testing show that there’s no issues.  I do have test results from the Ohio River testing and right now everything is showing nothing detected.  Let me see.  Yeah.  Right now everything that I’m seeing is not detected, so everything is reading negative right now.  And we’ll post those results, too.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  Chemical leaks into the water has not had any effects yet, but they’re concerned that later on down the road from being in the soil it will eventually make its way into water sources, so they’re, you know, monitoring that.  Groundwater contamination can take up to two years to have an effect on drinking supply.

MARISA:  Yeah.  Groundwater moves very slowly or can move very slowly depending on the bedrock situation.

CLARICE:  And I thought this was — I really wanted your take on this.  The Safe Water Drinking Act gives the EPA the authority to intervene and take charge when a substantial endangerment exists and/or state and local authorities action is inadequate to protect the public health.  I kept seeing —

MARISA:  Well, we’ve got the reverse situation going on, it sounds like.

CLARICE:  I agree, but I kept seeing that come up in different sources and I kept seeing people have conversations of, is this going to come into effect.  Is this something that people are going to — is the EPA going to take action.  And I was wondering if people were putting that in there to sort of flare up emotions  —

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  — or if you saw anything valid that I might have been missing.

MARISA:  No.  It sounds like the Safe Water Drinking Act is the exact opposite of the  situation that is happening in East Palestine where you’ve got the state government saying to EPA, there needs to be a soil remediation and we need more studies.  And EPA is saying, no.  So it’s the opposite.  That statute wouldn’t be relevant.  I mean, it would be relevant.  It wouldn’t be applicable in terms of enforcement.

[0:16:14] CLARICE:  Yeah.  So I hate to say it, but it’s a we’ll see situation for right now.

MARISA:  Well, it’s ridiculous.  They burned vinyl chloride.

CLARICE:  Yeah. And who knows.

MARISA:  Why wouldn’t you perform an incredibly comprehensive scope.  And the offender — I think it’s called Norfolk.

CLARICE:  I think it’s [inaudible] County.

MARISA:  The name of the company that was responsible for the trains.

CLARICE:  Oh, yes.

MARISA:  The information that I’ve read also indicates that there’s been some concern about the train operator Norfolk Southern where the state of Ohio is suing that company.  I haven’t seen that complaint, but my guess is the state doesn’t — or the state’s going after the company because it doesn’t think that the company has done enough in terms of the studying of the area and the remediation of the area.  EPA should be involved with that, but EPA is saying it’s not — the dioxins are not at an actionable limit, so they are leaving it to the state to sue the company.  What a mess.

CLARICE:  It’s such a mess and I’m — which begs the question of how bad does it have to get to be considered actionable.

MARISA:  I think it’s a thousand parts per million for some of the chemicals at the federal level, but the state has a lower limit of 700 parts per million.  So it’s, you know, splitting hairs here.


MARISA:  I get it, EPA.  Your regulations don’t call for remedial activity unless you’ve reached a certain threshold, but you’re not that far off.  You had a controlled, quote, unquote, vinyl chloride burn and the state and society is concerned, so maybe do some more testing or partner with the state.  I don’t know.  Makes sense to me.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  And I will say I think if you look at the — knowing that the is a controlled burn it kind of helps.  For folks who haven’t gone and seen the pictures — actually, you know what, I’m going to take it back.  Even though it is a controlled burn, going and looking at those pictures, they are shocking and they are jarring.

[0:19:19] MARISA:  Yeah.  Yeah.

CLARICE:  And I can completely understand why people are concerned.  I mean, they’re just — it’s these giant plumes.  I could completely understand why folks are like, can I drink this water, can I go outside.  It’s a very validated concern.

MARISA:  Yeah.  And I said — I’d like to correct myself.  It’s 700 parts per trillion that the state has in place for toxicity for dioxins and EPA is at 1,000 parts per trillion, so it’s a small measurement and it’s not that — again, it’s just not that far off.  You’re 300 parts per trillion apart.  Other states have even lower cleanup triggers.  Michigan is at 90 parts per trillion and California is at 50 and this area is at 700.


MARISA:  How can the science be so different?

CLARICE:  What a small measurement.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  That’s astounding.  Oh, I’m shocked by that.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  Well, you know, I don’t think it’s a situation of the science being different.  I think it’s a situation of what people are willing to tolerate.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  You know, that’s sad.  Briefly touching on the second train derailment.  Like I said, I wasn’t able to get a ton of concrete information.  I found there was a lot of overlap, so I’m not super confident that I have all of the info, so please, you know, if there are any mistakes let me know.  I kept seeing that the company — first off, I couldn’t find any information on who the company was that owned the second train, but they were not releasing any information on what these hazardous chemicals were.  They’re stating that they are hazardous chemicals that spilled during this train derailment but would not share what those chemicals were.  They stated that the trains have been — or the train cars have been decontaminated, scrapped, and sent to a landfill and that’s it.  That was the only thing I could find.

MARISA:  The landfill issue is another major concern because you’re taking contaminated soil and mixing it with other refuse, so it’s tough to — you know, the phrase, the solution to pollution is dilution was big in the ‘70s.  It’s not right, but they — you essentially mix contaminated soil with clean soil and then bring it to a particular kind of landfill.

[0:22:28] CLARICE:  Oh, so now you have just slightly dirty soil everywhere?

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  Great.

MARISA:  It’s tough to track, obviously, at that point.  That’s enough for today.


MARISA:  I think I’ve —

CLARICE:  I’ve got nothing happy to say.

MARISA:  — managed to bum myself out.  Yeah.

CLARICE:  Well, on that note, apparently, Ohio, your water is okay.  I don’t mean for this episode to scare you guys into — if there are folks out in Ohio listening, hi.  Second, I don’t mean to scare you all from avoiding turn on your faucets or avoiding using your water.  From what I’ve seen in the Ohio water testing, it seems fine.  I’m also not an expert.  I’m a lady who works from home and has a podcast with her friend, so.

MARISA:  I like that you described yourself as a lady.

CLARICE:  Thank you.

MARISA:  It’s classy.

CLARICE:  So that being said, like I said, we’ll link all of the resources that we used.  If you guys are out that way or if you’ve read anything or if you have any updates or feelings or thoughts on this, let us know.  You can reach out to us on social media.  We are at Desautel Browning Law on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  This episode will have no video attached as we’re still having some interesting Wi-Fi struggles.  If you want to see more of our weird Wi-Fi struggles, we’ve released a blooper episode where I do not act like a lady.

MARISA:  The funniest part for that — I’ve watched that blooper episode.  It’s at the end with maybe the last five minutes.

CLARICE:  The  glitches are good.

MARISA:  That cracks me up.  Funny.  Well, thanks, everybody.

CLARICE:  Oh, our e-mail.  Hold on a second.  Our e-mail is Help@DesautelESQ.com.  Send us your thoughts.  Thank you.

MARISA:  Nice job.

CLARICE:  Have a great day.


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