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Mar 8, 2023

At Indiana University, I teach government to students in one school, and speech to students in another. The subjects are quite different, as are the students. But the story of East Palestine, Ohio, gives me a real life lesson to teach both classes and will for years to come.

On Feb. 3, a train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed near the village in northeastern Ohio. Five cars containing vinyl chloride were among 20 derailed cars that contained hazardous substances.

East Palestine is a “village,” which features a council-manager type government in Ohio. It is near the Pennsylvania border and is 40 miles closer to Pittsburgh than Cleveland. It has a little less than 5,000 residents, is 98.5% white, has a median family income of about $40,000 per year, and its population last showed growth in the census of 1970. Thank you, Wikipedia.

On Feb. 6, three days after the derailment, Norfolk Southern performed a controlled detonation of the cars containing vinyl chloride, a chemical that is used in the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC pipes, and other plastics. Train company officials claim the detonation was executed “perfectly,” though footage of the dark cloud rising from it scream anything but perfect.

CNN has an excellent timeline of the events. When I worked for state government years ago, I was a regulator and communicator. Timelines like these make me want to come out of retirement.

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