I found it ironic that East Palestine was the name of the town where the recent horrific train disaster happened. The aerial views likened to images of Palestine in the Middle East after Israeli rocket and mortar attacks. Once again, the disaster in Ohio pulled the covers off the cozy relationship between the government and industries that put profits over the lives of people.

When 18-wheelers and trains rumble through working class neighborhoods, we can’t possibly know the risks involved. Often there’s no external markers to let you know what these deadly means of transportation are carrying.

The Southern Norfolk trains were carrying a host of toxic chemicals, some that didn’t get discovered until after the derailment. Vinyl chloride butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol, monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene. Most of us can’t pronounce them but trust me, they are no friend to the human body.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did its usual song-and-dance and assured residents there would be no harm to humans. Residents reported dying chickens, cats and dogs. By its own calculations, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated the deaths of nearly 44, 000 aquatic wildlife - like frogs, crayfish and snails.

How in the hell are all other living organisms dying or being gravely affected by the toxic chemicals, but human beings remain unscathed? Many residents reported dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headaches, rashes, nausea and other symptoms. If we’ve been paying attention to the trajectory of other disasters, we can predict that in 20-25 years, East Palestine will report high rates of cancer. The deadly impact is slow but sure.

The EPA is the independent agency with the sole responsibility for environmental matters, just as its names implies. These are the people who we pay to tell us lies that man-made disasters are harmless. Their theme song at every disaster site is “Everything is gonna’ be alright.”

First responders at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were told that the dust and chemicals they were inhaling were not harmful. More than twenty years later, thousands of people who were at Ground Zero are dead or wished they were dead. Many are struggling to receive the necessary medical care for their painful and debilitating conditions.

The rail system is responsible for transporting much of the dangerous chemicals that move across the country. As we often hear, East Palestine was an accident waiting to happen. That’s because over the years, regulations have been softened, forcing harsher working conditions. Regular testing and review of safety procedures are a joke. Companies are more willing to pay compensation to victims (or string out lawsuits endlessly) than to invest in critical safety measures.

I urge you to put some fire under the feet of your elected officials to hold these greedy corporations accountable. Across the board, taxpayers are paying people to be our watch dogs from the local city officials to the federal government. We can’t keep losing out to high-paid lobbyists who put their employers’ interests over ours. And we shouldn’t have to pay with our lives.

Find out what the protocols are in place for transporting deadly chemicals through residential neighborhoods or on the bodies of water near you. I’m willing to bet there’s not much in place which means citizens have to get organized to help co-create the measures to protect their families and their livelihoods.

The feelings of fear and anxiety by East Palestine residents have now been replaced by feelings of anger and hopelessness. They can’t get the answers they so desperately need. The fact that President Biden has not visited the area wouldn’t mean a thing to me. The fact that the head of the EPA is a Black man (Michael Regan) is of no comfort either.

In situations like this, people don’t want photo ops or empty promises. They need the truth - no matter how harsh it is. They need real-time support for what they are and will be facing. They need guarantees that they will not be put at risk again. That’s not too much to ask of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.com. Contact Ms. Rogers and BC.

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