One might ask how we can know so little about something that everyone is talking about? After 2020 & COVID, we should realize that in times of crisis, talking and ignorance often coexist. Now, with so many facts still being debated and (probably) many facts being withheld or hidden, let us consider how to look at this situation. As we work through collecting reliable facts, let us determine a process by which to syncretize and organize the facts about the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, particularly the accompanying environmental disaster.
An occurrence of this magnitude results in something deeper and larger than a mere layer of facts. One may know the surface temperature on an airplane and how high the plane is flying without having any understanding of whether the plane is destined to crash or land safely. We need more than a bunch of facts about the chemicals on board or the details of the attempted burn-off of those chemicals. We need more than a flat listing of facts, need more of a 3-dimensional dynamic story of what happened, what is happening, and what could happen in the future.
The story begins with the facts of what chemicals were in which train cars. These are reported to include at least: vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene/isobutene (Complete list here: https://response.epa.gov/sites/15933/files/TRAIN%2032N%20-%20EAST%20PALESTINE%20-%20derail%20list%20Norfolk%20Southern%20document.pdf). We should study the background of what we know about these chemicals. Given that thousands of gallons of these chemicals were being transported for use meant that they were planned for a purpose in some industrial production. We know a lot about these chemicals because of their use in industry, so we should have a plethora of safety data available. (I will update with fact sheets as I collect them) Facts like lethal doses, potential side effects of exposures, how the chemicals behave under various conditions and more should be readily available.
The story continues with the dynamic facts of the incident itself. While the knowledge about the chemicals’ properties was already documented in a thousand locations of manuals and safety data sheets, the actual event occurred and, like a crime scene, must be analyzed carefully to figure out what we she expect. Questions include: How much of which chemical spilled onto the ground? What happened to the chemicals when they were set on fire? What about the potential production fo phosgene and hydrochloric acid? How much of the chemicals evaporated into the air? Knowing what the chemicals will do in different situations does not matter as much if we don’t know the story (and therefore the situations) of the chemicals after the train cars left the tracks that day.
Currently, we have a lot of debate over this dynamic event and the questions just presented. Different experts are weighing in with different opinions. With the current environment of publis distrust towards government and experts, those of living downstream of the consequences are left with less understanding than we would like. As we look forward to predicting the consequences for ourselves and our next generations, we need more clarity and transparency in order to respond appropriately and confidently. Collecting enough information, whether it’s the experts or our own research, will take time. The answers to this mess will not come quickly or easily.
As we sit in the middle of the story, we now wonder about the future chapters in which we will live through inevitably. We wonder if we should move on with life and not worry. We wonder if we should pack up and move. We wonder if we should power up our detox systems generally or in a targeted fashion. Several questions beyond the bare facts and dynamic past events come to mind.
Depending on how much of the different chemicals escaped, will the dilution of spreading over miles of open air and water diffuse the impact enough to make it negligible? Did the burning of the chemicals make the spread even worse in either modifying the chemicals to be more toxic or potentially affecting more people than otherwise would have occurred? Will residuals of these chemicals accumulate in future waves of agricultural or animal products such that foods will be tainted in coming months and years? What can we do about these chemicals on an environmental level or a personal level?
Answering each of the prior questions requires more facts and much, much more discernment applied with vigilance over time. A problem arises though when one asks if we have time to do such research before the chemicals hit us and start causing harm. The answers must be sought, but in the meantime, some actions can be taken to hedge our chances towards not waiting too long.
Come back tomorrow to find out some very basic steps to optimizing your chances of limiting and avoiding adverse health impacts from the Ohio train derailment as we work to help you live a healthier more abundant life despite the toxicity of our current world.
Read Part Two here.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.