Ohio disaster a consequence of lobbying against environmental regulations

Mar 6, 2023, 4:39 PM


This video screenshot released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the site of a derailed freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, the United States. (NTSB/Handout via Xinhua via Getty Images)

(NTSB/Handout via Xinhua via Getty Images)

A month after the devastating train derailment took place in East Palestine, Ohio, residents are still furious with company officials and state representatives over the handling of the crisis.

Late last month, Norfolk Southern, the company that owned and operated the derailed train that released vinyl chloride, ethyl acrylate, and isobutylene into the environment, contributed donations to East Palestine with $300,000 for the school district and $825,000 to reimburse the fire department.

Norfolk Southern CEO visits East Palestine after derailment

“Ohio has brought a national spotlight on the dangers of transporting hazardous chemicals. There are many regulations, requirements, and railroad operations intended to keep these kinds of disasters from happening,” Ron Holcomb, author of “Constant Chaos: The Daily Battle to Protect the Environment,” told Dave Ross on Seattle’s Morning News. “But unfortunately, they will continue to occur because equipment fails and humans make mistakes. That reoccurring theme — equipment failure and human error — is something I saw firsthand for more than two decades with the state Department of Ecology, time and time again.”

Holcomb, who spent 25 years as a hazardous materials specialist and spill responder with the Washington State Department of Ecology, believes this disaster could have occurred anywhere, and industry lobbying against environmental and safety regulations will only make these incidents more likely.

“The initial results indicated the accident was 100% preventable. I have reviewed the results of numerous NTSB investigations into rail accidents here in Washington, all of them were preventable,” Holcomb said. “The reality is, it is impossible to make life in our world of oil and chemicals risk-free. Equipment will continue to fail and humans will find creative ways to make errors leading to environmental messes.

“The only way to keep daily and long-term environmental disasters from happening is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and find safe alternatives for chemicals,” Holcomb continued. “Some that will remain in the environment for generations. Until we make that transition away from fossil fuels and harmful chemicals. I believe environmental chaos will continue.”

More from Dave Ross: Norfolk Southern CEO visits East Palestine after derailment

Holcomb’s solution works in tandem with Governor Jay Inslee’s policy requiring all light-duty cars and trucks sold in Washington to meet zero-emission vehicle standards by 2035. Washington would become one of the first states to adopt a zero-emission mandate, alongside California.

“Switching to zero-emission vehicles is a critical milestone in our climate fight,” said Inslee in a prepared statement. “With growing numbers of consumers and manufacturers already making the switch, we’re making sure Washington is ready to seize the benefits of our EV future.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ohio disaster a consequence of lobbying against environmental regulations