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  • Writer's pictureDawon (Cherry) Shin

"Controlled Burns"

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Dawon Shin

February 2023, the media and news were filled with concern about the Ohio Train Derailment. The environmental concerns from this incident still persist: residents near the chemical spill zone were worried, and thousands of animals died due to the toxins. This incident was not only tragic due to its negative environmental impacts but how the history of toxic derailments goes back decades.

50 out of 150 train cars with hazardous chemicals derailed while heading from Pennsylvania to Illinois. Though there were no deaths reported, a huge fire spread right between the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Officials and authorities decided to burn the rest of the chemical cargo. Though residents in the area evacuated, toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride were released into the air and the soil nearby, which are capable of causing symptoms of dizziness and even various types of cancer. Exposure to these chemicals and hazardous atmospheres can impact the health of the residents both short-term and long-term. The purposefully burned chemicals added more to this volume of severe environmental impacts.

The lingering harm to wildlife in Ohio is also a huge problem. Affecting more than 7 miles of streams, thousands of fish were killed due to the chemical toxins. This also affects residents in the area as Ohio uses fish to determine how clean the water is. The upper stretch of the Ohio River lost the functioning ecosystem due to the decomposition of the smaller organisms that bigger fish feed off. An endangered species in Ohio called hellbenders that live near the streams, may also be impacted by the toxic chemicals.

The “controlled burns” of the chemicals were done due to the risk of explosions. The officials made sure to evacuate the residents several times before they decided to burn the chemicals. Though they were able to evacuate the residents, they weren’t able to save the thousands of animals that died from the burn. I believe this decision should have been made not only after making sure of the residents’ safety but the ecosystem near them including the air, animals, soil, etc. In addition, the Ohio Train Derailment should make policymakers consider the importance of safety when transporting hazardous materials across borders. We should not be blaming other political parties in the media, or find out who’s at fault, but rather find solutions for residents to be safe and healthy through the lingering effects of the derailment. This should also raise awareness of the dangers of offshore spills in addition to oil spills in oceans, and find ways to prevent these from happening in the future.

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