Ohio train derailment highlights a lack of media coverage

A train in East Palestine, Ohio derailed, sparking conversations about the United States’ environmental practices and impact. However, some suggested news organizations did not cover the incident to the greatest extent. 

Travis Roach, an University of Central Oklahoma environmental economics professor, said other events, specifically the Chinese-operated balloon sighting in the U.S., overtook coverage on East Palestine. 

“That kind of sucked the oxygen out of the room,” Roach said. 

However, the lack of environmental coverage did not start with the Ohio train derailment. Roach said this has been happening for years. 

 “In Oklahoma, we’re used to seeing this,” Roach said. “You can have a very large scale tornado that causes terrible damage and changes lives and livelihoods for a lot of people, and unless you live within that state or within that community, it doesn’t get covered. It’s not really talked about quite that much.”

 Roach said while some criticize the media for new coverage “always being negative,” these events often impact people the most. 

When the train’s operator Norfolk Southern conducted a controlled burn of hazardous materials, including the flammable vinyl chloride, it released the fumes into Ohio and bordering states. Locals reported experiencing headaches and eye irritation, and approximately 3,500 fish were killed by acidic water. However, a reporter was arrested on-the-scene for attempting to cover the derailment. He was released and no charges were filed. 

Roach said the environmental effects of the derailment on Ohio residents are concerning. While regulations have been stigmatized in recent years, Roach said, these policies are essential to public safety. 

“It’s become such a political football to fight, but we forget about some of the mundane ways in which regulation helps us,” he said. “We can go to a restaurant and eat and we basically assume or trust that the food that we’re eating is safe and edible, and won’t cause disease. That’s a result of good regulation that most people can agree on.” 

In 2018, the Trump administration repealed a 2014 safety rule for high-hazard cargo trains. 

“This is what happens when you have more deregulation. We’ve taken off some of the guardrails,” said Roach. 

It comes down to policies and the overproduction of materials, such as plastics, Roach said.    

“I just hope that we pay attention to the people who were impacted,” Roach said. 

He mentioned 911, and the first responders who had serious health effects. He said it took celebrities going to Congress to gain support for financial aid. 

“This is not nearly the same scale of an event,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to gain support for the people who have had to live through this by no fault of their own. They just happen to live in this part of Ohio.”

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