Accident or Scandal? Norfolk Southern Ohio Train Crash

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train crashed and caught fire near East Palestine, Ohio. The train was carrying vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and isobutylene, which are all highly hazardous chemicals. These chemicals leaked into Ohio waters and rivers making this a multi-state problem. 

Because of the spill, people’s livelihood, health, and farmland have all suffered. There has been mild cleanup in certain areas of Ohio, and the citizens living in a one-mile area from the crash are said to receive $1,000 as an “inconvenience” reparation.

However, the biggest priority, it seems, was to get the trains back up and running, which they have. And as more information comes out from people that are local residents and even those that aren’t, it seems that what was first an awful accident, is something more scandalous. 


Probably one of the most significant issues many people have is that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) changed its toxicology on the lethal exposure of vinyl chloride from 100 parts per million (PPM) to 100,000 PPM, eleven days before the incident, even though these numbers have not changed in seventeen years. 

The Shareholders

The second issue would be the lack of press on what happened, why, etc. There has been little news coverage on the state of Ohio in mass media making it hard to know or understand what exactly is going on.

Many people, specifically those living in Ohio, have taken to social media to share what is happening. But there is a possible reason why it is not being reported on major news outlets. 

Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the chemical spill, is owned primarily by Black Rock and Vanguard. 

CNN is owned by Warners Bros Discovery. 

Fox News is owned by Disney. 

Black Rock and Vanguard are the two biggest shareholders in both of those companies. This means that the companies that have the biggest shareholders in the railroad that derailed, also have the biggest shares in the companies that should be reporting on what’s going on. 

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern does not have a clean reputation either, rather they have a well-known reputation for firing whistleblowers.

In February 2013, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ordered Norfolk Southern to pay three of their workers $1.1 million after they were fired for reporting workplace injuries. \

From 2019 through 2020, an employee of Norfolk Southern filed 40 complaints in four months to two managers concerning safety violations on locomotives that contained hazardous materials. The bosses did nothing because this would lead to them having to remove the trains and disrupt the schedule, and the employee was told that getting the trains out took priority over inspections. 

On January 20, 2021, an investigation found that the company was still firing and/or retaliating against workers who filed work-related injuries within the railroad industry. It was found that in 2009, they fired an employee after he reported a lower back injury he sustained while working on the train tracks. 

Then, in Ohio itself, it has been reported that Norfolk Southern offered to test the water of those close to the crash for free. To do this, they had citizens sign a waiver, which also stated that those who signed could not sue Norfolk Southern. 

The Politics

Currently, those in politics being looked to and criticized are President Biden, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and former President Trump. 

Biden is under scrutiny because he has yet to go to Ohio, or even reach out to the Ohio mayor.

On February 24, journalist David Muir interviewed Biden. One of the major topics of discussion was Biden’s choice to visit Ukraine and Poland during the time of the train derailment.

Asked whether he planned to visit Ohio at all, he said “Let’s put this in perspective. Within two hours of that derailment, the EPA was in there. Within two hours. Every major agency in the United States government that had anything to do rail and/or cleanup was there, and is there.” 

However, he did not say whether or not he himself would go.

Muir then asked Biden if he had spoken to the Ohio mayor; his response: “I can’t recall that…I don’t think that I’ve talked to the mayor. I’ve talked to everyone else there and I’m multiple times. Both governors. I’ve talked to everyone there is to talk to.” 

Everyone other than the mayor, that is. 

And twenty days after the incident occurred, the White House said that Biden has no plans to visit the derailment site.

Buttigieg is under scrutiny for the normalization he puts on the train crash, stating that there are about 1,000 train derailments a year and that this is nothing new. 

But he is not addressing the fact that this crash, in particular, was full of hazardous chemicals, affecting the people, the water, the animals, the farmland, and the livelihood of the citizens 2altogether. None of which is normal. 

Buttigieg didn’t even address the situation until ten days after it had happened.

He is facing calls for his department to advance rail safety rules. And the Transportation Department didn’t respond to a request to interview Buttigieg about his agency’s response to the train crash.

Buttigieg visited nearly three weeks after the derailment, on February 23, which he was criticized for since he did not visit sooner. When asked why he had not visited sooner, “Buttigieg walked away, while a spokesperson refused to answer questions on camera.” 

And even after citizens reported respiratory issues and dead animal sightings, federal and state officials reassured the residents that they could return home.

Political officials were also quick to point the blame at the Trump Administration and former President Trump himself. 

Former President Barack Obama passed legislation that made it a legal requirement for trains to have electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes if they were carrying hazardous flammable material, which provides an electronic brake signal instantly throughout the train. In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded that legislation.

What most commentators leave out is that the train that derailed did not meet the regulatory standard, so it would not have been required to have the brakes, even if the legislation was not rescinded. 

The regulatory standard was that there needed to be 20 consecutive cars or 30 interspersed cars loaded with flammable liquid. The train running through Ohio had only 11 cars. 

Former President Trump did, however, visit Ohio to let them know they had not been forgotten. 

The Chemicals 

The three chemicals that the trains were carrying were vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and isobutylene. Due to the accident, all of these spilled into Ohio waters, and then later cleanup crews burned them, releasing them into the atmosphere. 

Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas that is usually handled as a liquid. It is used to make Polyvinyl Chloride for wire and cable coatings, in automobiles, and in adhesives. 

It is categorized as a carcinogen and mutagen. It is flammable and reactive, so when it catches fire, poisonous gasses are produced.

Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause severe irritation, burns on the skin and eyes, and cause eye damage. If inhaled, it can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs; cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Repeated and prolonged exposure to this chemical can cause damage to the liver, nervous system, lungs, bones, and blood vessels. 

Butyl acrylate is a clear, colorless liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polymers, resins, and paint formulations. 

It is also flammable and reactive, creating poisonous gas when it catches fire. It affects individuals by being inhaled or passed through the skin. 

Exposure to butyl acrylate can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Repeated exposure to this chemical can also cause permanent lung damage. 

Isobutylene is a colorless gas that is commonly shipped as a liquified gas. It is used to produce resins, other chemicals, packaging, and plastics. 

It is highly flammable and reactive, releasing poisonous gasses when it is burned. 

Exposure to isobutylene can cause headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue. High levels and repeated exposure can cause coma and death. 

All of these chemicals spilled into East Palestine, Ohio. It caused damage to the local farmland and wildlife. There have been reports of animals and pets being found dead. 

The bodies of water, such as rivers, ponds, etc. have colorful oil streaks and circles on the top. This has also been causing acid rains to come down on the state of Ohio because of the number of toxins in the air that were released during fires and water contamination


Information on the issues listed above is very hard to come by due to the lack of reporting by most major news companies. The only information readily available to the public are the bashes on political figures.

If you are interested in finding out more about the current state of Ohio and how it is affecting the citizens, most of this can be found on social media (i.e. Tik Tok and Twitter) using hashtags such as #ohiotrainderaling, #ohiochemicalspill, and #ohioacidrain. 

UPDATE: Another Norfolk Southern train crashed near Springfield, Ohio, on March 6th. The trains were said to be free of hazardous material, other than small amounts of residue, but they were not released into the environment. This makes two trains in one month to derail in one state. What are the odds?