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How Christians Can Respond to the Ohio Train Derailment

Railroad through countryside

A train derailment earlier this month in East Palestine, Ohio has recently received a great deal of attention across the country. The crash resulted in the derailment of 50 cars, including 11 carrying highly toxic chemicals. In all, thousands of gallons of toxic matter spilled and burned at the site of the crash. These toxins – used in making paint, adhesives, and PVC pipes – were spread into the surrounding air, ground, and water. 

These chemicals are known to cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and irritation to the nose, throat, and lungs – symptoms that some East Palestine residents, who have since returned to their homes since the crash, have reported experiencing. According to the National Cancer Institute, these chemicals are also linked to liver cancer. In short, this derailment resulted in a massive health risk to those in East Palestine and its surrounding communities.

As evangelical Christians, we believe in the biblical mandate to be good stewards of God’s creation and to defend the life of both children (born and unborn) and adults. The air we breathe and the water we drink is necessary for living a healthy life.

It is clear that this incident is tragic, but it could have been much worse. Before arriving at East Palestine, Ohio (population: 4,761), the train passed through more much populated areas like Cleveland, Ohio (population: 372,624). If this accident had happened less than 100 miles earlier, the air and water of hundreds of thousands more people would have been contaminated by these toxic chemicals. 

In addition to the direct health impacts visited upon the residents of East Palestine, there is also concern that the water in the Ohio River Valley watershed has been compromised. If this is true, the health and safety of people throughout the region will be in danger. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency detected the presence of chemicals in nearby waterways as late as a week after the initial crash. Cities downriver are monitoring their intake from the Ohio River to minimize the health risks to hundreds of thousands of Ohioans. In addition to water quality, others are concerned about the air in the region, as the smoke from the controlled burn was able to be seen on weather radar.

This train was most likely headed to Beaver County, Pennsylvania, where a Shell Chemicals ethylene cracker plant has recently begun operation. This means that despite the current outrage about this accident, the amount of toxic chemicals that will be transported in this region are only likely to increase. Whenever hazardous chemicals are transported, there is a risk of accidents that will release these toxins.

How Can We Respond?

One action we can all take to reduce incidents like this is to minimize our use of plastics, which will reduce the necessity of transporting the hazardous chemicals used to produce them. If we each make an effort to reduce single-use plastics like straws, drink bottles, and grocery bags – and minimize the use of plastics in our homes – together we can make a difference.  

However important and necessary, individual action is not sufficient. Transporters must be held to stricter standards to reduce the likelihood of these kinds of dangerous crashes in the future. Reports have come out over the last few weeks of a history of resistance to stronger safety measures from rail corporations in order to cut costs and maximize their profits. When profits are maximized at the expense of Americans’ health and peace of mind, Christians must stand up and demand a stop to it.

As we all attempt to do our part to reduce demand for plastic products, let’s also call on the Biden Administration to ensure that common sense safety regulations – like the use of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes in all new and existing trains – are put in place that will reduce the risk of further health impacts due to train derailment in the future.

The number to leave a comment with the White House is 202-456-1111.

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