FTA/ In an email sent on Sept. 1, 2022, a career manager with the Army Human Resources Command told an officer that his service obligation runs concurrently. But when he sat down with a manager last week, he said he did not get that same clear answer. “It’s demoralizing,” said the officer, who has been living apart from his wife for years because she could not relocate for work. “This isn’t the life we thought it was.” A former aviation captain — one of the last to leave the Army without serving her BRADSO requirement consecutively — said she had “many panic attacks” after learning the Army considered her to be among those who left before eligibility. “It’s a huge relief that I got out, but I have a lot of sorrow and pity for the others,” said the former officer, whose request last April to be discharged was granted. She asked to remain anonymous out of fear of being pulled back into service, as her nearly 2-year-old daughter cooed beside her. On Thursday, Army officials said that at least 20 aviation officers were discharged without serving their BRADSO obligations consecutively but that they would not pull any of them back to serve retroactively. Stitt said the Army needed a few more weeks to fully understand the scope of the issue, including how many officers are affected. / Ooops.
The opinion letter published last month covered the state of the current rail industry and the factors which would lead to the East Palestine derailment and the “1000 derailments a year” mentioned by the current DOT administrator. This month I’ll focus on the disaster response and then summarize what this incident symbolizes for our nation as a whole and its economic health.
Was the East Palestine incident handled properly?
The fiery derailment occurred Friday, February 3rd . On Saturday, February 4th, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway declared a state of emergency, citing a “train derailment with hazardous materials”, and requested residents evacuate. Air quality was being monitored throughout a one-mile evacuation zone. On Sunday, February 5th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued an "urgent evacuation notice" to anyone who had not yet evacuated within a mile of the train derailment. The warning was issued after a dramatic temperature change was noticed in a rail car in the wreckage of the crash. 1.)
On Monday, February 6 th , fire impingement to the VCM tank car exterior caused the liquid temperature to rise near the boiling point. To prevent a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE), crews began a controlled release of the liquid VCM. VCM was released from five rail cars into a trough that was then ignited, creating a large plume of black smoke over the village of East Palestine. After completing the controlled release, crews began the "wrecking" process, in which the empty tank cars were moved off the tracks and relocated to a safe area nearby.
As I understand it, Siranovich is saying that the drastic action taken by the response team could have been avoided, specifically the act of burning the VCM in a trough next to the tracks, which released it into the atmosphere and the water table. What should they have done?
The accident happened on Friday, February 3 rd . During that first day, they should have laid out containment booms and absorbents around the cars to contain the liquids. If they could not get enough absorbents, they could have used dirt to absorb spilled material and hauled the dirt away later. Then they should have begun spraying cars with water to get the fire out and the temperature down.
The residents could have been evacuated on Saturday; not wait until Sunday. The one mile radius was appropriate. They should have told the residents it would be for four or five days before the cleanup was done. Clean up would have been nearly complete after those four or five days, as opposed to the long drawn out process it has become now.
Stan Siranovich is implying that the approach taken by the NS and Ohio authorities was taken in haste with a lack of planning and training in a bit of a panic. The VCM did not have to be released into the atmosphere or water table because the containment measures and fire mitigation would have taken place immediately. You do not have to panic from the threat of BLEVE if you understand the basic characteristics of the chemicals involved and you take the right steps at the right time with a sense of urgency . There should have been a method available to drain the tanks. The best cleanup for the VCM would have been to haul it away, preferably in rail cars if possible, and either sent to be incinerated or sent back to the manufacturer to have it processed for future use. Pouring on the ground and burned into the atmosphere was not the best choice if the right steps taken early on Saturday, In order for that to happen, a game plan would have had to be already in place, and there needed to be a person on site who knew what to do. The hot bearing took an hour before anyone noticed, but the disaster happened quickly. It is not obvious that there was someone on site immediately who had the experience to know what to do and the authority to do it. The cleanup was more costly and less efficient than it could have been. The chemicals are now disbursed in such a way that they will stick around in the environment for years.
Stan makes additional comments that go right to the heart of the matter. It tracks closely with the actions taken on the ground during the entire East Palestine debacle. He has noticed a degradation of expertise in the industry as a whole; a lack of quality in professional education, a lack of experience from the ground up in the leaders of today’s industry.
There is misallocation of resources throughout the American economy today. If we were truly a wealthy country and we didn’t waste it, infrastructure would be at the top of the list. We do not have logistics and supply chain operating at 21 st century worthy excellence. VCM is a material of ordinary commerce. Millions of pounds are shipped every year Unless we want to go back to the stone age, we need to learn how to handle it and live with it. We also need to train and properly compensate those who will carry out the mission. We need faith and trust in the men and women who operate the businesses every day, whether they are union or middle management.
Is corporate greed at play here? It would certainly look like it could be a factor, but let’s not leave government greed out of the equation. Too often, our government representatives are not public servants as much as extortionists extracting money from industry and constituents that they spend on pet projects elsewhere. There is a great deal of simple, sometimes ordinary but sometimes sophisticated, corruption. Let’s also not forgot that the worst corruption and disasters occur when corporate greed and government creed feed off of and support each other. This is termed fascism, and it's not the way we want to describe our country.
I sit here today composing this opinion piece one month after the East Palestine derailment. The story has stayed in the news. On March 2 nd , it was reported that rail workers involved in the East Palestine clean up are coming down sick from the toxic environment. This news came after several days of political stunts designed to ensure people that the water and air is safe. Last night, another Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio, in Clark County, less than a four hour drive from East Palestine. News reports were aired on Columbus television news of a derailment in Delaware County that happened months ago but which still hasn’t been cleaned up. Norfolk Southern derailments in Michigan and Alabama have also just been reported. Yes, this story does not seem like it wants to go away. I don’t think it should. This story should stay in the news and our consciousness as long as it takes to fix the problems it represents. We need to demand better.