2024 Projects

Photo by Sean McCallister and Tolu Olasoji/Center for Contemporary Documentation

The East Palestine Disaster 

On Thursday, February 3rd, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials, including ethylene glycol, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and vinyl chloride, derailed just outside the city limits of East Palestine, Ohio. Residents in a 1-by-2-mile radius of the disaster area were ordered to evacuate during the following two days.  The subsequent vent-and-burn of an estimated 887,400 pounds (115,000 gallons) of remaining chemical compounds was deemed unnecessary in March 2024 by testimony from NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. Approximately one-third of the total train cars en route from an OxyVinyls petrochemical plant in Texas to a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic manufacturing plant in New Jersey were affected by the derailment. At least twenty affected cars contained vinyl chloride, the key chemical ingredient needed to produce PVC, and at least five of these cars were involved in the vent-and-burn.

Even now, over a year after the incident, residents are still grappling with the effects of this environmental catastrophe. Many are still experiencing health complications of the vent-and-burn including headaches, nosebleeds, upper respiratory problems, and other ailments. Along with the health issues, residents are struggling with whether to move on or continue to advocate against corporate malfeasance. The lack of transparency and communication from Norfolk Southern and authorities during and after the incident has eroded trust within the community, leaving residents feeling abandoned and uncertain about their future. The long-term consequences of the derailment and subsequent chemical release continue to loom large, highlighting the urgent need for accountability, support, and systemic change to prevent similar disasters in the future.

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