Ohio train derailment leads to mudslinging and conspiracy theories

Long-term risks are still unclear, experts say. Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, aren’t sure if it’s safe to stay in the area after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed there and authorities released toxins into the air from the train cars in a risk of explosion.

“Controlled burning of toxic materials has filled the air and covered surface water and soil with chemicals,” notes The New York Times. “Dead fish have washed up in nearby creeks, and the air has a sickening aroma.”

All told, several dozen Norfolk Southern train cars—including 11 transporting hazardous materials—derailed near East Palestine on February 3. Two days later, hundreds of residents and businesses in the area were told to evacuate, and on February 6, authorities released vinyl chloride from five. To protect against explosion of tanker cars.

February 8, The eviction order was revoked. But although eastern Palestinians have been allowed to return to their homes and businesses, they worry that doing so is risky and say there is a lack of clear guidance on what is safe and what is not.

These concerns have been fueled by speculation and hyperbole from politicians, pundits and people on social media – where “commentators have dubbed the situation ‘the biggest environmental disaster in history’ or simply ‘Chernobyl 2.0,'”. times indicates:

They warned, without proof, that important reservoirs serving the state’s rivers downriver could be badly contaminated. And they suggested that authorities, railroad companies, and the mainstream news media were purposefully obscuring the full toll of the crisis.

“Planned attack, cover or both?” asked the “Conservative Daily Podcast,” a program known for right-wing talk.

Some of those speculations were echoed by mainstream outlets like Fox News, which suggested the outcome could be disastrous.

“You get into Ohio at 9 a.m., even if it means inhaling mustard gas along the way,” Fox News host Jesse Waters said Tuesday, with a headline reading: “Ohio town looks like Chernobyl.”

In other words, the disaster has been fertile ground for conspiracy theorists and partisan mudslinging. (See, for example, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio using this as an excuse to call for the firing of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Or race Capitalism uses the opportunity to take a shot.)

Left out are the people of East Palestine, who are not sure what to believe.

“I think most residents here are concerned that they’re going to sweep this under the rug,” said East Palestine resident Lisa Simmons. PBS NewsHour. “We’ve got dead fish in our streams. There’s been a lot of reports of pets and animals dying. And we just want to make sure we’re taking care here.”

For what it’s worth, the Environmental Protection Agency says the air is safe and public water systems are safe.

But there are still many unknowns about long-term risks, some experts say.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still investigating how it happened.

An NTSB report this week said the train had an overheated wheel bearing that caused the derailment. Wayside hot-box detectors — which use infrared sensors to detect when rail car components are overheating — are supposed to detect this sort of thing and flag rail crews about problems. “A hot-box detector in East Palestine alerted crews shortly before a train derailed,” noted the train industry publication. Freightwaves. “It is unclear if any hot-box detectors alerted the crew earlier in East Palestine.”

Around East Palestine, Norfolk Southern currently employs no signalmen who specialize in the maintenance of devices such as hot-box detectors. Freightwaves. Christopher Hand, director of research for the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, told the publication that signalmen these days spend most of their time on government-mandated testing rather than regular maintenance.

“In a very excited meeting [Wednesday] At night in the local high school gym, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told the crowd through a bullhorn that Norfolk Southern would be held accountable,” reports Bulwark. Conaway said: “They ruined our city, they’re going to fix it.”

The Bulwark The piece by Ohio writer Daniel McGrath delves into some interesting context about East Palestine and surrounding areas, where environmental and economic concerns are pitted against each other:

About twenty miles from where the derailment occurred, a plant operated by Shell Oil opened last fall. It was almost ten years in the making. Located on the Ohio River near Monaca, Pennsylvania, the facility, known as the “ethane cracker,” opened in November and employs about 600 people. Cut small pieces to make the back. These bullets are often called “nardles”.

The plastic manufacturing process involves separating ethane and methane from natural gas and heating the methane until it is converted to ethylene, the highly reactive raw material for polyethylene, the most common type of plastic. The process is environmentally problematic in several ways.

A day before the train derailment, two environmental groups announced they were suing Monaca plant operator Shell Chemical Appalachia for violating federal and state air-quality standards….

But the business community and many elected officials argue that despite the environmental risks, the economic benefits are undeniable—and desperately needed. “You can’t just have a service economy,” Beaver County Commissioner Jack Manning said in an interview last spring. He links the decline of the school-age population by more than 50 percent between 1972 and 2012 to the loss of the area’s once-powerful steel industry, and is eager to do something to raise the community’s potential again.

A train carrying chemicals that help derail plastics is in this background.

The big problem, McGrath wrote, “is that the government and Norfolk Southern’s solution of burning the chemicals and then sending in a crisis manager to confirm the severity of the situation seems like a decision that is more public in favor of the train.”

Whether or not this was the right decision is difficult for ordinary people to assess – which is perhaps what makes the situation so ripe for politics and conspiracy theories.


Did the Pentagon launch hobby radio balloons? President Joe Biden said Thursday that the unidentified flying objects (UFOs) shot down by the United States last week and over the weekend were not Chinese spy balloons. Meanwhile, some evidence suggests that at least one of them may be a small amateur radio “pico” balloon. This type of hobby ballooning relies on Mylar helium party balloons to carry solar-powered transmitters, which can be picked up by amateur radio hobbyists.

From RTL-SDR.com:

At least one of the objects shot down by a US Air Force jet over Yukon, Canada is believed to be the amateur radio pico balloon K9YO-15 that was launched from Illinois on 10 October 2022. It was on him [sic] Seventh circumnavigation of the Earth after 123 days aloft.

The launch blog post indicates that the K9YO-15 balloon was flying a silver Mylar 32″ sphere SAG balloon that appears to be from balloons.online.…A Pentagon memo notes that the object shot over Canada was a “small metal balloon. A with tethered payload” which fits the pico balloon description exactly.

The K9YO-15 balloon ceased all WSPR telemetry transmissions on February 11 at 00:18 UTC (just before sunset in Alaska when the solar panels would stop working) while flying just below Alaska.

Using the NOAA wind model and the last known location by Alaska, K9YO-15 was estimated to have passed over the Yukon when the US Air Force shot down the unidentified balloon object at 20:41 UTC (3:41 PM EST / 1:00 PM) on February 11. 41 pm Yukon time according to Canadian Defense Minister Anand). Reports put the shot down object’s altitude at about 40,000 feet (~12000 meters), matching K9YO-15’s projected ~11500 meters. Based on the previous day’s transmission time, it is suspected that if it had been effective, the balloon would have resumed transmission sometime after Yukon afternoon when the sun was strong, but no transmission was observed.

On 14 February the balloon was declared missing by the launch group.

More here.

free mind

The Fox News host’s text in the lawsuit from voting machine manufacturer Dominion revealed:

free market

Kentucky’s abortion ban could be enforced. Kentucky’s Supreme Court held Thursday that a lower court was wrong to strike down two state laws restricting abortion. “The two measures are Kentucky’s so-called trigger law banning the procedure and a separate ‘heartbeat’ law that limits abortions to about six weeks of pregnancy,” reports CNN:

Sided with Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Justice Debra Hembree Lambert asserted in her opinion that the circuit court “abused its discretion by granting the abortion provider’s motion for a temporary injunction.”

Planned Parenthood, along with abortion providers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky, filed suit to block Kentucky’s sweeping abortion laws after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

They filed two lawsuits challenging the statute, which effectively bans abortion in Kentucky in limited circumstances where it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother, according to the opinion….

After a circuit court temporarily upheld the abortion ban last summer, an appeals court judge granted the attorney general’s emergency request to overturn the order, but an appeals panel later recommended that the state’s highest court weigh in on the order.

More here.

Quick hit

• A Shreveport, Louisiana, police officer has been charged with negligent homicide in the Feb. 3 shooting of an unarmed man, Alonzo Bagley. The officer, Alexander Tyler, was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance.

• Economist Emily Oster tackles “scare headlines” about screen time and processed foods

becauseIts Billy Binion looks at a letter that hundreds of contributors The New York Times Sent on Wednesday to express displeasure with the paper’s coverage of transgender issues.

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• Only fan creators talk about AI porn.

• In Virginia, a battle rages over access to data from period-tracking apps (“If you’re worried about a surveillance state newly empowered to snoop through your personal information, perhaps to prosecute you for an illegal abortion, privacy measures must a lot More thorough than simply deleting a period tracking app,” noted becauseLiz Wolff’s last summer.)