East Palestine, OH Derailment Leads to Trouble for Southern Illinois

March 9, 2023

38 cars of a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying toxic and hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3.  Not only was there an unsafe amount of chemicals for transportation, but the train had suffered at least one mechanical failure before the derailment, according to WFMJ news.

Several of these chemicals are of massive health risks to the general public, such as vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol and benzene residue. Each of these substances has the potential to cause massive health risks such as radiation poisoning, respiratory problems and even cancer in severe cases. These chemicals were released into the soil and water supply immediately after the derailment occurred which significantly affected the East Palestine area with many causes for concern; most notably is a mass spread of livestock and aquatic life deaths as well as chemically polluted water according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

City officials began to incite a controlled release and burn a few days later in hopes of preventing further explosions but did not take into account that when vinyl chloride is burned, it can release massive amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, which clings to the moisture. This means that the next time any form of precipitation occurs within this area, it will become acidic and genuine acid rain will become an issue of the present.


Now you might be wondering, what does this mean for Southern Illinois? The Ohio River was contaminated with these abundant amounts of chemicals and has been continuously flowing downstream towards the Mississippi River. The Ohio River not only runs through southern Illinois, but meets with the Mississippi which directly flows through the main waterways not even 30 minutes from Carbondale.

The Mississippi River is one of the main sources for any form of water supply within the Midwest and the South, and with it, the very likely threat of contaminated drinking water might come to pass.

Air quality has already begun to worsen for most of the Midwest with an increased amount of individuals suffering from various health problems regarding respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis as well as generalized irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff.

Another severe issue the worsening air quality brings is the amount of livestock located in the Midwest that have already been exposed to potential chemical air. Over 5,000 land animals, most of which were livestock, have died around the area around Palestine and more have fallen ill with signs of radiation poisoning. This means that not only is our water supply in danger, but so is the food supply that contains various meats, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency concludes.

Despite all these issues bringing much cause for concern, the most potentially catastrophic disaster has yet to come to pass, and that is its long term effect. We can draw conclusions from a previous incident many of the general public are aware of, the Chernobyl meltdown. Hundreds of thousands of different organisms were affected by this disaster, and the life growing and thriving there today is still being affected by it. Animals have developed mutations and plants have begun to grow abnormally, and both of these organism groups still have severe health problems 37 years later.

Radioactive air led to a mass evacuation once the residents were informed of the severity of the disaster, but it was too late for many that passed from various chemical poisonings.

Southern Illinois’ water supply has already begun to experience the effects of this as more fish have been reported to be found dead and floating towards the shores of the Mississippi as well as several other smaller bodies of water that are connected to this main river.


I went out to the Illinois and Missouri border and found a few fish floating along the banks slightly imploded and strange residue slightly akin to oil coating the shore. More and more people have begun to get sick from unknown means throughout the Midwest and is even seen here at SIU with a massive cold-like bug spreading to the students and staff that isn’t quite what the common cold entails, specifically due to the focus on secondary respiratory and skin problems.

The main causes for concern with this potentially new virus from the train derailment and chemical fallout is the influx of headaches, fatigue and coughing fits brought on by this according to a recently published survey from the Ohio Department of Health.

Not only has the East Palestine derailment created mass worry amongst most of the surrounding neighbors, but other train derailments containing hazardous materials are beginning to occur more frequently throughout the country bringing similar causes for concern in regards to chemically polluted air and water, according to Independent News.

Power plants and chemical warehouses have also been seen catching fire that have the potential to mix with the Ohio disaster and creating something much worse we aren’t quite aware of yet due to this high amount of explosions and fires containing hazardous chemicals all across the continental United States.

Southern Illinois and the rest of this country could be facing major problems in the near future if this pattern continues and air, water and soil quality continues to go down from chemical pollution. Our people, our animals and our very earth are at stake after the East Palestine derailment and the following chemical release spreading across the country.

Staff reporter and photographer Mo Collar can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram at @m0.alexander.


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