By Peter Baugher
Editor’s Note: The author of this article does not hold the views presented within, but is written from a devil’s-advocate standpoint.
On Feb. 3, a train operated by Norfolk Southern Railway derailed in East Palestine, bursting into flames and sending smoke high into the air.
Among other cargo, the train was carrying toxic chemicals. According to the Columbus Dispatch, some of these chemicals were used as chemical weapons during the First World War.
According to the Associated Press, on Feb. 6, officials began a controlled burn of these dangerous chemicals. On Feb. 10, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate were detected in Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek and the Ohio River.
The city of Steubenville, including this campus, takes in water from the Ohio River to provide water for residents and students.
According to Weirton News and Weather, the city of Steubenville detected butyl acrylate and vinyl chloride at the treatment plant intake a few weeks later.
Although Steubenville’s city water system officially conforms to federal standards, the Ohio River is already one of the most polluted rivers in the country according to The Earth Project.
Further, various events in the past few months make it quite plausible to assume that parts of the city’s water system are deteriorating.
Just last December, the city issued a boil and conserve water order due to reported filtration issues in water system around the LaBelle area of Steubenville. According to WTOV News, this lasted for around two weeks, leaving city residents without a reliable source of water.
In January, a sewer line collapsed in Steubenville. During the process of repairs, Chuck Murphy, utility director for the city of Steubenville, reported that contractors found that around 78 feet of the sewer line were on the brink of collapse
Presumably, the city was unaware of the damage until one sewer line collapsed. If the line in one area was about to collapse and another already did so, it seems reasonable to assume that others are in a similar condition.
Now, with butyl acrylate and vinyl chloride in the water, how can we trust that same system to provide us clean water?
Without safe water, we cannot be safe on this campus or in this community.
A quick google search shows that the filters recommended by the Illinois Department of Public Health to protect against butyl acrylate cost hundreds of dollars.
In the experience of many students, even filters which are cheaper start to take a financial toll because filters need to be replaced significantly more often in Steubenville than in other areas due to the poor water quality.
Students may use bottled water, but doing so presents the same financial problems as filters and is very inconvenient for a busy college student.
Further, even if students could exclusively drink bottled water, it is unreasonable to expect Parkhurst workers to use bottled water to cook food, clean silverware and mix concentrated beverages.
Finally, students have limited ability to come home, especially at this point in the semester.
It is too late to switch to online classes or to withdraw from classes without consequence.
While I believe health is a personal responsibility, students are finding themselves in an impossible situation. Many must choose between risk to their health and a degree, career, and future.
Midterms are only now happening, which means we still have half a semester until summer break. This issue has the potential to significantly affect academic progress and even push some students into a financial crisis.
The university has precedent in Covid lockdowns to quickly shut down campus and move to online options. Further, online educational technology has developed significantly in the past three years and professors and students are more equipped to handle online school than ever before.
At the very least, the university should allow for students to return home without their education or financial plans being significantly impacted. Ideally, for the safety of students and unless policies change, the university should close campus and allow all students to learn in the safety of their homes.
By Leo Schafer
According to Time Magazine, an average of 1,475 train derailments have been reported in the United States each year between 2005 and 2021. That averages out to 123 per month, 4.5 per day, and just under one for every six miles of freight rail track in the nation.
According to the Association of American Railroads, of the 12 million carloads that the United States freight rail infrastructure carries, roughly 18%, or over 2.2 million of those carry chemicals, some of which are toxic.
With all of these statistics in mind, let’s address the recent Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred on February 3, 2023. First, we can see that derailment is not a statistical anomaly. Derailments happen multiple times per month, and it can be inferred from the aforementioned data that they frequently involve toxic chemicals.
This is not to say that what happened in East Palestine isn’t a disaster. It has caused mental and in some cases physical suffering and irreparable damage to a small community that did not ask for millions of gallons of vinyl chloride to be dumped (literally) in its front yard.
However, there are some things that we need to keep in context, namely, the frequency and scope of these events
The question that I am attempting to answer is whether we should let the derailment affect our daily life here on campus and cause us to evacuate, though we are nearly 60 miles away from the disaster site.
I can only attempt to convince you by trying to calm your fears and answer your objections, particularly those which deal with rumored mass casualty events of wildlife and livestock and reports of toxic chemicals found in Steubenville water system’s intake.
Regarding the rumored mass casualty events, Cleveland’s News Five reports that the Ohio EPA estimated that 43,000 animals were killed as a direct result of the chemical spill caused by the derailment. This statistic has been cited time and time again as evidence that the situation is more dangerous than we have been told, but we have to dive a little bit deeper into this information.
This statistic doesn’t refer to 43,000 cows, humans, sheep, pigs, dogs, or cats. Rather, the Ohio EPA has estimated the deaths of 38,000 minnows and 5,500 organisms of other species, including fish, crayfish, and amphibians.
In the 1890s, John Scott Haldane, a British physician, introduced the idea of placing small animals such as mice or canaries in cages to be taken down into coal mines with mining teams. In the days before electronic gas detectors, these small creatures with their faster metabolisms served as an early warning sign of carbon monoxide in the air, allowing miners to leave the mine before they were affected by the gas.
This same principle applies to the East Palestine situation. The aquatic creatures dying off show us that there are indeed chemicals in the water. However, the fact that no animals larger than frogs have been reported dead in large numbers is a signal that the chemical levels in the water are not significant enough to be dangerous to large organisms.
But, of course, chemicals remain and have even appeared in Steubenville drinking water intake points on the Ohio River, according to WTRF News. This is undeniably frightening.
Before I discuss these chemicals specifically, I would point out that the detection of these chemicals at intake points would be a real concern if the water taken from the Ohio River was distributed directly to faucets throughout the city of Steubenville. As it is, however, water goes through a long and complex journey before reaching your cup.
The two major chemicals of concern are vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate. Vinyl chloride can be completely filtered out of drinking water through charcoal filters, and butyl acrylate can be removed via reverse osmosis
Both of these procedures are already included in Steubenville city water processing, indicating that no extra measures would even need to be taken to protect city residents against the new contaminants caused by the derailment.
This is a scary situation to be sure, but it’s important in situations like this to truly and deeply examine facts, not the headlines. With the facts in mind, it becomes clear that the train derailment poses no threat to the life of campus.
Responses from Social Media
@_sarasparks_ – “I’m shocked that this wasn’t done, but I get the sense the damage is already done yk”
@ti_manley – “I evacuated within days because of the specific risks to my health, I don’t trust the gov..”
Our next question of the week is: “Are the restrictions on the Latin mass outlined in Traditionis custodes healthy for the Church”? If you feel passionately about this issue and would like to write a piece for a chance to be published, please email [email protected].