Home / General / The media politics of the Ohio train derailment

The media politics of the Ohio train derailment


The derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals near the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, three weeks ago has produced an odd and somewhat perverse news arc.

For one thing, it remains unclear the extent to which this was some sort of serious environmental accident:

 Regardless of the clean-up effort, it’s hard to say what residents might experience in the years to come. The exact level of exposure is unclear, as are the impacts of individual chemicals on human health, Farmer said. Scientists also don’t know what happens when people are exposed to a combination of chemicals like vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate.

“It’s really hard to know how those different chemicals interact and then how your body reacts,” Farmer said. “That’s why I think all the scientists are having a really hard time telling anybody what is going to happen long-term.” (To address health concerns, for at least the short term, the state is setting up a medical clinic in East Palestine.)

But what is clear is that the train wreck is not catastrophic, Farmer said. “We’re dealing with a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “I know that’s very uncomfortable for people, but they should not feel that they are in the next Chernobyl. They are not living in Flint, Michigan. It’s just not on that scale.”

In other words, there’s no material or compound that’s causing severe health problems in a large group of people, or across a large region.

For another, since there was no obvious way to turn what the accident was doing to the soil into an indictment of Joe Biden’s ongoing project to build landing strips for gay Martians across rural America, Fox News et. al., were paying little attention to it.

That all changed when Biden made his surprise trip to Ukraine. Now Biden’s failure to visit the site of a possibly serious but also possibly not serious environmental accident somewhere in the ungovernable tribal regions has become the outrage of the week, replacing the ritual slaughter of the balloon-like objects. (Remember that one? But we were so much older then; we’re younger than that now).

Anyway there’s probably a real story in here somewhere about train safety standards, corporate (ir)responsibility, and so forth, but good luck finding it among the media noise.

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