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East Palestine Disaster Highlights Danger of Our Toxic Economy

Photo credit to Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Photo credit to Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Statement Issued by Cancer Free Economy Network on April 5, 2023

On the evening of February 3, 2023, thirty-eight cars on a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed and caught fire in East Palestine, Ohio. An additional twelve cars sustained damage. In the following days, there was a multitude of actions and responses including an evacuation of everyone within a one-by-two mile radius. In addition, there was a “controlled release,” or purposeful burning of vinyl chloride, which is a known carcinogen. Other hazardous chemicals involved in the spill include butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and isobutylene.

The disaster in East Palestine exemplifies the multitude of hazards, risks and harms that living in a toxic economy can bring to a community, as well as the difficulty of obtaining accurate, timely and actionable information after an incident has occurred.  

The Cancer Free Economy Network (CFE) believes that the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the places we live, learn, work, and play, as well as the products we use every day, should not make us sick. Our members have come together to prevent cancer and accelerate progress towards a healthy, regenerative and equitable economy for all. We are calling for action to protect residents, first responders, railway workers and all those placed at risk by the Norfolk Southern derailment. 

Unfortunately, toxic disasters happen all-too-frequently. Our response needs to prioritize people’s health and a healthy environment over profits. Companies must be held accountable for the harm they cause to communities and workers. To adequately prepare for chemical spills and protect first responders, the federal government must pass and enforce stronger right-to-know laws and educate community leaders on potential risks.

In the wake of chemical disasters, government officials must be transparent and accountable to community members seeking information about potential exposures and risks. That information must be provided in language that community members and workers can understand in a timely and easily accessible manner. All costs (present and future) must be borne by the responsible parties, not by taxpayers or individuals.   

As a society, we need to move towards a more sustainable and healthy economy.  We have it within our grasp to create safer non-toxic products that allow us to avoid these catastrophes altogether. 

A disaster of this magnitude requires an all-hands-on-deck response – to address the present emergency and to monitor and support those impacted for years to come. CFE member organizations and allies are among those who have stepped up to offer support and assistance. See below for statements, resources and articles from many of them.


Statements from CFE Members 

River Valley Organizing, Community Demands for Norfolk Southern, Federal Government

Breast Cancer Action, The Latest Train Derailment, Chevron, the EPA — and Breast Cancer

Breathe Project: Norfolk Southern Derailment and Explosion Raises Serious Concerns for All Pittsburgh-Region Residents 

Cancer & Environment Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania: Regional Network Calls on NIH and CDC to Establish a Public Health Research Infrastructure in the Wake of a Toxic Disaster 

Environmental Health Project: Statement on Train Derailment and Fire in East Palestine, Ohio 

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production (Joel Tickner and Molly Jacobs, with CFE founding member Charlotte Brody):  Chemistry Urgently Needs to Develop Safer Materials (Scientific American, February 25)

NAACP Statement on East Palestine and Surrounding Communities (Ohio Conference NAACP)

Science & Environmental Health Network, (Blog) Why Our Trains Are Toxic: The Dioxin Backstory; March 2023 Networker: Keeping Track of Trains

CFE Member NIEHS (the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) offers resources, trainings and tools to empower responsible health research in the wake of chemical disasters


Statements and Resources from Allied Organizations

Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Chemical Disaster Prevention Resources and map of chemical disasters

Toxic Free Future, More than 100 groups demand EPA conduct dioxin testing in areas impacted by East Palestine train derailment

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