“Chernobyl 2.0”?Ohio train derailment sparks wild speculation
Residents in Ohio feared for their safety after a train carrying dangerous goods derailed nearly two weeks ago. The controlled combustion of toxic substances has filled the air and coated surface water and soil with chemicals. Dead fish floated in a nearby creek, filling the air with an unsettling aroma.
But for many commentators from across the political spectrum, this speculation goes far beyond known facts. Right-wing commentators have been particularly critical, using the crisis to sow distrust of government institutions and to suggest that the damage may be irreparable.
On social media such as Twitter and Telegram, commentators have dubbed the situation “the greatest environmental disaster in history” or simply “Chernobyl 2.0”, reminiscent of the 1986 nuclear disaster. They warned, without evidence, that vital reservoirs serving downstream states could be severely polluted. They also say authorities, railway companies and mainstream news media have deliberately covered up the full toll of the crisis.
“A planned attack, a cover-up, or both?” asked the Conservative Daily, a podcast known for pushing far-right talking points.
Some of these speculations have been echoed by mainstream outlets such as Fox News, suggesting that the consequences could be disastrous.
“You better clock in at 9 a.m., Ohio, even if it means inhaling mustard gas on the way in,” Fox News host Jesse Waters quipped Tuesday in a caption: “Ohio looks like Chernobyl Bailey.”
Environmental Protection Agency and state officials acknowledge that the situation in East Palestine, Ohio, is catastrophic in many ways. A fire broke out after the train derailed on Feb. 3, derailing or damaging about 50 of the 150 carriages. Fearing an explosion, officials ordered nearby residents to evacuate before a controlled burn that released toxic fumes that could be seen for miles around within hours.
Since then, the EPA has explain Air quality has returned to safe levels.residents have allowed to return. lingering chemical smell because people can smell According to the agency, even pollutant concentrations are well below hazardous levels.Water quality testing found ‘No signs of risk’ to public water systems so far, though private wells should be tested, the EPA said.Utilities that draw water from the Ohio River are taking precautions, at least one explain It didn’t detect any changes in the water.
At a town hall meeting Wednesday, frustrated residents pressured officials to keep the air and water safe. Experts urged caution as they assessed the long-term consequences, warning that airborne pollutants could deposit on surfaces, seep down wells and migrate through cracks into basements and homes.
However, influential people and right-wing commentators were quick to draw their own conclusions, theorizing about the extent of the damage and the federal response, which they said amounted to a widespread cover-up.
“It’s a really scary thing,” Nick Soto, a video reporter covering the situation, said on Fox News’ hit show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “I don’t think the federal government has enough credibility to tell us whether it’s safe to go into an area like this.”
“Well, they’re forcing the Covid-19 vaccine domestically,” Mr. Carlson replied, “so I don’t think they can be trusted.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who oversees the railroads, has been the target of criticism from many conservatives. Mr. Carlson called Mr. Buttigieg “very incompetent” and said his actions were “almost to the point of nefarious”.
Online, non-scientists have written exhaustive analyzes of toxic chemicals, speculating that air concentrations of vinyl chloride (a chemical carried on trains) are dangerously high. They rejected the EPA’s assessment of air safety, instead concluding that the area for miles around East Palestine was heavily polluted.
“Note that I’m not a chemist, but just looking at the effects of these compounds is concerning,” one user on the chat app Telegram wrote in an analysis, claiming that the toxins would be safer if they weren’t burned. During a town hall meeting on Wednesday, East Palestine Mayor Trent R. Conaway said: “There are two options: either we blow it up or it blows itself up. There is no third. indivual.”
local media reports Several environmental consequences of the controlled burn were described, including some dead fish and some domesticated animals being found sick in a nearby creek. An EPA representative told the town hall that the chemicals are deadly to fish but not to humans, and that the waterways have refilled with fish.
But those reports were quickly joined by unsubstantiated and far more serious reports of environmental hazards that extended far beyond the site of the burn.
Right-wing commentator Stew Peters wrote on Twitter: “Dead fish and cattle are reported as far as 100 miles from the scene,” without offering any evidence. The tweet garnered more than 40 million views.
Since then, there has been growing belief in a cover-up as internet users using the hashtag #OhioChernobyl claiming the disaster was ignored by national and local media, despite all major news networks and several local news organizations throwing at least some coverage of the event.
Those claims were emboldened after a reporter for the cable news channel NewsNation was arrested and charged with trespassing and resisting arrest while filming a report at a news conference. Those charges were later dropped.
“How can a reporter be ‘hacked’?” asked former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who hosts NewsNation. “I’ll tell you what to do. This is when those in power don’t want you around.”