The Environment and National Politics: Ohio Train Derailment

The derailment of a train in East Palestine, Ohio, took place on February 3rd, 2023. Toxic chemicals such as butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and vinyl chloride spilled near the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania, contaminating over 15,000 pounds of soil and over one million gallons of water. Residents are worried that potential exposure to dioxins, organic pollutants that take significant amounts of time to break down, may result in long-term, life-threatening health issues including but not limited to cancer, damage to the reproductive and immune systems, and developmental issues, especially in children.

As further investigation regarding the environmental and health impacts takes place, the Ohio train derailment becomes increasingly more politicized. Early February, former United States President Donald Trump announced his upcoming visit to Ohio and blasted President Joe Biden for his sudden visit to Ukraine during this time period.

“You have a president going to Ukraine and you have people in Ohio that are in desperate need of help,” Trump said on Monday during a speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, days after he announced his upcoming trip to the site.


The situation has soon become highly polarized, with Republicans claiming that Biden’s absence is a result of the general political views and 2020 presidential election results in that region of Ohio. Soon after, the Biden administration released a statement regarding the dispatch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to East Palestine. Further political polarization and dispute has ensued between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro said, “This is not a place for conspiracy theories or political games…This is a place where the good people of Pennsylvania and Ohio deserve answers, deserve accountability and deserve public servants.” (ABC News)

Residents of East Palestine and its surrounding areas are still shaken from the event and have reported emerging health issues already, ranging from fevers and headaches to pain and irritation of the skin. An overwhelming majority of residents have also reported high rates of anxiety towards both the environmental and health impacts of the situation, as well as the politicization of such a major, serious event.

According to CNN Health,

“Some people…feel puzzled by ongoing tests of the town’s air and water that have not detected chemicals at levels that are known to pose health risks…Many at the town hall said they felt that the evacuation order had been lifted too soon – less than a week after the derailment – and may have put them in harm’s way, before any potential dangers were fully assessed.”

For more information, check out these sources:

Penn Future



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