Science for me, but not for thee, the Ohio train derailment and coronavirus revisited

Thousands of dead fish wash up on the shoreline, and residents complain of sore throats, eyes, and respiratory issues in the wake of a train derailment and the controlled burn of toxic chemicals, but authorities insist everything is safe and they have nothing to worry about. Comparisons to the pandemic are unavoidable.

New Palestine, Ohio is in the midst of an environmental disaster that some are calling an American Chernobyl after a train derailment two weeks ago.  The 150-car train, operated by Norfolk Southern, was carrying toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride, sobutylene, and butyl acrylate.   Vinyl chloride, in particular, breaks down into dangerous compounds when burned, including hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a chemical weapon used during World War I as a choking agent.  The substance is called a “volatile organic compound” and is known to cause cancer, attacking the liver, and impacting brain function.  Three days after the initial wreck, the Ohio National Guard and the US Department of Defense initiated a “vent and burn” operation to destroy the remaining chemicals in what they claimed was a safe manner.  The entire village was evacuated during this period as the burn generated a plume of smoke that could be seen from space, but were told by authorities it was safe to return just a few days later.  This now appears to have been a tremendous error in judgment, though most in a position of authority are loath to admit the truth so far.  Immediately upon returning, residents began reporting a wide range of symptoms including headaches, burning eyes, and respiratory issues.  The smell alone is said to be sharp enough that people living in the region have reported a scent similar to nail polish or chlorine bleach lingering in the air for miles around, inescapable and cloying.  The fears of health hazards to humans have been compounded by thousands of dead fish and other animals littering the landscape, some discovered miles down the Ohio River. Others have claimed livestock and small animals are dying as well.

Meanwhile, officials at the state and local level have continued to insist the area is safe.  The Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting tests on the air, soil, and water, claiming to have screened 396 out of some 500 homes as of Tuesday, plus the local schools and libraries.  They believe any contaminants caused by either derailment or the controlled burn are not at levels hazardous to humans and they are so confident in this position, they are no longer monitoring for phosgene and hydrogen chloride.   “On the evening of Feb. 13, U.S. EPA discontinued air monitoring for phosgene and hydrogen chloride community air monitoring. After the fire was extinguished on Feb. 8, the threat of vinyl chloride fire producing phosgene and hydrogen chloride no longer exists. U.S. EPA will continue 24-hour community air monitoring for other chemicals of concern.”  Any deviation from this insistence, either through residents complaining of odors and symptoms or outlying levels of contaminants has been largely dismissed.  For example, “U.S. EPA continues to conduct air monitoring throughout the East Palestine community. Air monitoring since the fire went out has not detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time. For example, there have been some exceedances of PM2.5 screening values, but those are both upwind and downwind of the derailment site so likely had another cause,” or “U.S. EPA air monitoring did not detect chemical contaminants of concern in the hours following the controlled burn.  Residents in the area and tens of miles away may smell odors coming from the site. This is because the byproducts of the controlled burn have a low odor threshold. This means people may smell these contaminants at levels much lower than what is considered hazardous.”

Some health officials insist any symptoms aren’t due to the derailment or subsequent fire.  Ohio’s state health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff claimed air quality doesn’t appear to be behind any of this, not the symptoms or the animal deaths.  “Unfortunately, volatile organic compounds share with a host of other things the ability to cause very common symptoms at the lower level. So headache, eye irritation, nose irritation, etc.. I think that we have to look at the measured facts. And the measured facts include the fact that the air sampling in that area really is not pointing toward an air source for this,” he explained.  “Anecdotes are challenging because they’re anecdotes,” he claimed. “Everything that we’ve gathered thus far is really pointing toward very low measurements, if at all.”  Not surprisingly, Dr. Vanderhoff is urging everyone to simply trust the experts.  “Look, we have got very good data as it relates to the air quality, and I think people can feel very confident in that fact, coupled with the fact that there continues to be air monitoring. So that’s very good. We have no indication that the municipal water supply is not safe. However, we do have testing that is pending, and I think it’s a relative easy thing to do to use bottled water for a short of time. I think people should be confident that multiple agencies, both at the state and the national level, are very serious about this, are watching very closely and are [not] allowing any wiggle room when it comes to safety.”  The EPA also plays the expert card, insisting science is guiding all of their decisions, the complaints of residents be damned. The “duration of community air monitoring will be guided using a data- and evidence-based approach.”  To date, they haven’t actually released any of this data, merely claimed everything was within acceptable levels.

Perhaps needless to say, many residents are less than trusting by now.  “Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek,” explained Cathey Reese, who lives in Negley, Ohio after seeing dead fish in a stream running through her backyard.  “They only evacuated only one mile from that space, and that’s just insane to me,” noted Jenna Giannios.   “I’m concerned with the long-term health impact. It’s just a mess,” she continued.  “We are seeing them locally and inside of our bodies. What we’re experiencing-local fish in our creeks have died….oily sheens and coloration in our water….[the] constant smell of burning plastics and chemicals in the air…issues with our dog…vomiting, acting lethargic. It’s scary stuff here,” Nathan Izotic and his wife Kelly told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.  “My house is just across the tracks … and it smells, too. You can’t spend a lot of time here without feeling like crap,”  he added. “And my question is why, if it’s okay if it’s safe, and all these people say it’s safe, if it’s so safe and okay then why does it hurt?”   Lisa Marie Sopko of Kindred Spirits Rescue Ranch lives about four miles away in Pennsylvania.  “We could see the plume come up and over us,” she described.  “Our eyes were burning, and my face could feel it.”  A few independent experts have also begun asking questions.  “The soot as well as any other materials should in my opinion be treated as contaminated by vinyl chloride and/or dioxins or other contaminants until proven otherwise,” Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, told the Associated Press. Andrew Whelton, a professor of environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, wondered, “When they combusted the materials, they created other chemicals. The question is what did they create?” Professor Whelton also believes air pollution isn’t the only concern.  “Because of their size, they don’t go in the air as easily,” he explained about the behavior of semi-volatile organic compounds. “They like to stick to soils and other materials. The question is, how contaminated is the creek and what will they do to remediate that?”  There is reason to be concerned.  Despite the EPA’s positive statements in public, a letter has surfaced that the agency sent to Norfolk Southern last Friday that suggests a much more dire situation, saying that multiple hazardous chemicals “either are known to have been and continue to be released to the air, surface soils and surface waters.”

I am not the first person to notice a dramatic difference in the reaction from the government and public health experts between an obvious environmental catastrophe and the pandemic.  Obviously, the two situations are markedly different, but in one case we have the government informing us in authoritative tones that everything is alright, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, and any concerns voiced by the average person are, at best, misguided.  One might refer to this as the “see no evil, hear no evil” approach.  In the other, the government readily embraced every worst case scenario possible, and recommended the most draconian measures ever attempted on a grand scale regardless of the impact on the average person or the cost.  The “sky is falling approach.”  Throughout the pandemic, there was not a data point that failed to be interpreted in the most dramatic fashion, from estimates of the death rate that were around 10 times higher than actually observed to hospitalization rates that intentionally overcounted coronavirus cases.  Simultaneously, data concerning the various mitigation levels, masking, business closures, school closures, limitations on gatherings, etc. was either interpreted as positively as possible, or even the slightest possible measurement of improvement compared to average was enough justification regardless of the potential adverse impacts.  The government and the public health experts were largely immune to new data for almost two years and the refusal to accept that none of these measures worked as planned persists to this day.  Dr. Fauci claimed last year that we will never know if the lockdowns were worth it and, after promoting the vaccine for years, published a peer reviewed article claiming he knew all along that it didn’t prevent transmission.

Recently, a study by the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews found that mask mandates did little or nothing to slow the spread or prevent infection.  The study was based on 78 randomized, controlled trials, six of which were conducted during the pandemic in both community and clinical settings.   They concluded, “Compared with wearing no mask in the community studies only, wearing a mask may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu‐like illness/COVID‐like illness.” On Tuesday, CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, was asked whether these findings would change their recommendations regarding maskings in schools.  Incredibly, she insisted that “Our masking guidance doesn’t really change with time.”  In other words, facts and evidence be damned.  The uniting element of both cases is the bizarre insistence that all of these decisions are guided solely by the evidence and the data, regardless of the facts.  Dr. Anthony Fauci once insisted that he views himself as a representative of science itself.  In a Vogue magazine puff piece last year, Dr. Walenksy claimed “Political people cannot influence science.  If they do, I won’t be there,” after being quoted as saying “Yay science.”  The EPA now hides behind science and evidence, even as people are reporting debilitating symptoms and there are dead fish littering the landscape like fallen leaves.  Their reports and updates do not contain any actual evidence, but are impervious to the reality of what people are experiencing – and capturing, you can literally see these dozens of dead fish piled up in photograph after photograph.  The reason for this disconnect is much harder to explain, but many believe the corrupt nexus between government and big business is responsible behind the scenes.  Norfolk Southern is a huge corporation with deep political ties.  The same as Pfizer and all the others that benefited during the pandemic.  My goal is not to speculate here.  Only to note that in both cases, trust us they say without doing anything to earn that trust.  If this is science in the year 2023, it’s no wonder most people are skeptical


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