By: Sam Doak
February 17 2023
All evidence points to this accident being the result of a mechanical failure.
On February 3, a freight train carrying industrial chemicals derailed outside of East Palestine, Ohio. The accident caused 38 railcars to collide and some to ignite. According to Motherboard, five of the derailed cars contained vinyl chloride, a chemical used to manufacture plastics that can be hazardous to humans.
The train's derailment caused a fire to break out. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reported that this damaged several railcars. According to The Guardian, a decision was made to initiate a controlled burn to prevent an explosion, which resulted in the release of hazardous substances into the air.
In the wake of this event, some commentators have claimed that the train's derailment and the subsequent release of chemicals were planned. One post that has been shared on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook summarizes this claim, stating, "Environmental disaster intentionally caused by the federal government - a derailed train carrying many carloads of Polyvinyl chloride was detonated on purpose in Palestine, Ohio." The post claims that the disaster occurred "right in the middle of the most prime farmland in the country," which its creator believes indicates it was "a clear and obvious act of war waged on the United States by the government."
There is no evidence that suggests the train's derailment was planned in advance. While it will take some time for investigators to determine a definitive cause, the NTSB states, "investigators have identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment. Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment."
According to CBS News, since the accident, railroad employees have pointed to the train's "excessive length and weight" as a possible contributing factor to the mechanical failures that led to the derailment.
It is worth noting that while the decision to burn chemicals may appear to be a deliberate attempt to cause pollution, the rationale for doing this has been well documented. According to The Los Angeles Times, this decision was made to "avoid the danger of an uncontrolled blast" that could have occurred had action not been taken.
Train derailments are not uncommon in the United States and elsewhere. According to The Independent, "The Bureau of Transportation Statistics records 54,539 train derailments between 1990 to 2021, an average of 1,704 per year." While this is a small figure compared to the overall number of journeys completed on the U.S. rail system, this is not as unlikely an event as some claimed.
There is no evidence that the train derailment in East Palestine was planned. All available information indicates that it was the unintended consequence of a mechanical failure. The decision to initiate a controlled burn was not made with the intent of polluting farmland; rather it was designed to avoid an uncontrolled explosion. This claim has therefore been marked as false.