The Response: Bomb Trains and Death Plumes with Rebecca Burns

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Today on the show we’ve brought on Rebecca Burns, co-author of the recent piece in The Lever, Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment.

On February 3rd, a 150-car train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The train was carrying several cars of vinyl chloride, an extremely hazardous and toxic chemical used in plastics manufacturing. The derailment triggered a gigantic fireball, which looked like a giant billowing mushroom cloud and sent a plume of black smoke miles and miles across multiple counties.

After the initial explosion, the town was evacuated, but residents have since been allowed to return. However, the situation is far from resolved. The extent of impacts on people living in the area, as well as on the local ecology, are difficult to imagine — and this story is not getting the attention that it deserves.

Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the disaster, has been on the cutting edge of lobbying for industry deregulation, killing federal safety rules, and slashing its workforce to dangerous levels. Incidentally, the company has also been seeing record profits.

In this Disaster Dispatch episode of The Response, journalist Rebecca Burns explains “bomb trains,” what’s going on in East Palestine, Ohio, and what the technical and political causes of this disaster are. We also discuss how disasters like this are just part of a broader ecosystem of industry deregulation and corporate cost-cutting which could serve as a death sentence for the rest of us.

‘Bomb Trains and Death Plumes’ episode credits:

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