Tag Archive for: environmental hazard

Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.

Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.



Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide

A federal judge in Amarillo, TX, heard arguments today in a case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the sale of the abortion medication mifepristone nationwide. Attorneys for the Texas-based organization Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine contends that the FDA used improperly approved the drug in 2000. The group argues that the FDA and did not adequately assess its use by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.

Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen used to abort a pregnancy, usually before 10 weeks gestation. More than half of all abortions in the US are managed with medication. Mifepristone also has several other approved uses that have nothing to do with abortion. These include treating uterine fibroids and managing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

Department of Justice attorneys defending the FDA said that mifepristone has a proven track record of being safe and effective. The DOJ also argued that the challenge comes much too late as the drug was approved 23 years ago.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also filed an amicus brief in support of the FDA, saying mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe”.

Women’s health advocates say taking mifepristone off the market would force more women to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures. It would further overwhelm abortion clinics that are already struggling to meet the needs of women who often have to travel several states away.

Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presided over the case, asked the attorneys involved early last week not to publicize when and where the hearing would be held. Kacsmaryk hoped to minimize press coverage and protests at the courthouse in this momentous case that could impact over 60 million women of child-bearing age in the US. The judge’s attempt to keep proceedings quiet backfired with women’s rights groups descending on Amarillo. One dressed as a kangaroo with a gavel, implying the hearing was a “kangaroo court”.

Kacsmaryk is a former Christian activist appointed to the federal bench by former Pres. Donald Trump. His court has become a venue of choice for lawsuits from numerous conservative groups. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine incorporated in Amarillo just three months before filing suit, which many consider a case of “court shopping”.

Kacsmaryk did not issue a ruling today after four hours of arguments. The groups bringing the suit also asked Kacsmaryk for a preliminary order halting sales of the drug while their lawsuit proceeds. Kacsmaryk ended by saying he would “issue an order and opinion as soon as possible,” possibly suggesting he’s already made up his mind about the preliminary order. In anticipation of mifepristone becoming unavailable, healthcare providers are busy lining up viable alternatives.

The next stop for the losers in Kacsmaryk’s court would be the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It’s possible the case could wind up before the Supreme Court. Even if the FDA ultimately prevails, an order from Kacsmaryk halting sales of mifepristone could complicate the lives of millions of women for months (not to mention people who use mifepristone to manage other medical conditions). 

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Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment

The state of Ohio has filed a civil suit against the rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment in East Palestine last month that was responsible for releasing more than a million gallons of toxic chemicals. The state is hoping to recoup the cost of the state’s costs from the disaster. The suit wants to hold the rail company financially responsible for damage to the state’s natural resources, the cost of state emergency response and economic harm to residents.

The suit refers to the East Palestine disaster as just one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents for which Norfolk Southern is responsible. Norfolk Southern has been responsible for at least 20 derailments since 2015 involving the release of toxic chemicals, according to the filing. The state accuses Norfolk Southern of “recklessly endangering” residents and the environment, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence.

Communities in western Pennsylvania were also affected by the disaster which took place less than a mile the other side of their border with Ohio. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a criminal referral to his state attorney general regarding the disaster. The attorney general’s office is still investigating whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of Norfolk Southern, but no charges have been filed.

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Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea

Yesterday, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied since 2014. US officials say that the crash was the result of an encounter with two Russian fighter jets. The drone became “unflyable” when one of the jets clipped its propeller. Prior to this, the jets had been dumping fuel over the drone to try to force it down. The Kremlin denies this version of events.

The US says the drone was in international airspace when the Russian jets attacked it, but Russia insists the the drone violated their (or Ukraine’s) air space. Russia claims that the presence of the drone is further evidence of direct involvement in the Ukraine war by the US military.

Both Russia and the US have announced that they’ll attempt to recover the drone. There’s a worrisome possibility of confrontation as the two sides try to get to the drone first. Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley says he’s not sure if the drone is recoverable, claiming it sank under 4000-5000 feet of water. Milley also stressed the US has taken “mitigating measures” that would thwart Russia’s attempts to recover useful intelligence from the drone should they recover it. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed he has communicated with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the incident.

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Atlanta: Protests, multiple arrests at “Cop City” site where eco-activist was gunned down by police.

Second Norfolk Southern train derails in Ohio, just over a month after East Palestine

Greece: Violent protests in Athens after train crash that killed 57


Atlanta: Protests, multiple arrests at “Cop City” site where eco-activist was gunned down by police

Over the weekend, police arrested dozens of protesters who they claimed took part in a “coordinated attack” at a construction site for a future $90 million training center for police and firefighters. Protesters set fire to construction equipment at the site. Police have charged 23 of them under Georgia’s state domestic terrorism statute. This follows 6 arrests of activists using the same charges after a Jan. 18 raid of a protest encampment in the forest. That was the first time in US history a state law has been used this way against an environmental movement.

Dubbed “Cop City”, the center will occupy the site of a former penal farm in an area of woodland known as South River. The site borders a Black working-class neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta. Cop City will feature a mock village including fake convenience stores, homes and even a nightclub which police trainees will use to practice tactical raids.

Opponents of the project say the building of cop city will have destructive environmental impacts. They say there was no satisfactory assessment of the impacts before the project was approved. Atlantans are also unhappy about the militaristic nature of the facility and the training that will take place there.

The death of Tortuguita

The Jan. 18 raid also resulted in the death of 26-year-old indigenous Venezuelan-American activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who went by the name “Tortuguita”. An autopsy commissioned by Paez Terán’s family found that the activist had been shot 12 or 13 times, possibly with multiple weapons. 

The events that led to Tortuguita’s death remain in dispute. Around 9 am, that morning group of officers from the Atlanta police, Dekalb county police, Georgia state patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and possibly the FBI entered the forest to clear a campsite where the activists had been living, some of them for over 2 years.

The officers claim that Tortuguita fired on them “without warning” and wounded an officer. The GBI claims ballistic evidence showed the bullet that wounded the officer was fired from a gun Tortuguita had legally purchased in 2020. Other activists disbelieve this and claim that the officer might have been wounded by friendly fire or even by his own weapon. 

GBI claims there is no police bodycam footage of the encounter and hasn’t published any of the evidence they say backs up their account.

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Second Norfolk Southern train derails in Ohio, just over a month after East Palestine

On Saturday, March 4, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, OH. This was just a month after the Feb. 3 derailment of another Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, which has created health issues the community are still grappling with. Unlike the East Palestine derailment, federal and state authorities were quick to address the Springfield derailment publicly.

About 20 of the 212 cars on the Springfield train derailed, but authorities were quick to assure the public that no hazardous chemicals were believed to be on board. However, today authorities acknowledged that some of the other cars on the train were carrying hazardous materials. authorities ordered residents within 1,000 feet of the derailment to shelter in place out of an abundance of caution. 

Following this second derailment, Norfolk Southern has released a “6-point safety plan“. The only substantive points of the plan include better monitoring of the Civil War-era brakes still used on the trains. It makes no mention of any plans to upgrade these brakes to Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP), which likely would have prevented both the Springfield and East Palestine derailment.

A bipartisan Senate bill, dubbed the Railway Safety Act of 2023, likewise doesn’t require rail companies to install ECP brakes. However, the competing Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act would require trains carrying toxic and hazardous materials to used ECP brakes. The DERAIL act was proposed by Democratic Reps. Chris Deluzio and Ro Khanna, both from Pennsylvania which was also affected by the East Palestine disaster. 



Greece: Violent protests in Athens after train crash that killed 57

Officials say that about 12,000 protesters (though it was very likely more) gathered near the Greek Parliament in Athens this weekend to voice their outrage over the decline of the nation’s commuter rail system. The protesters included students and members of the rail workers union.

Many of the 57 people killed in the midnight head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train were students returning to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki following a holiday. The rail workers’ union have for years been calling attention to rampant equipment failures and increasingly lax safety enforcement on the railroad. Much of this deterioration has taken place since a private Italian company took over operation of the state-owned passenger rail in 2017. However, the railroad system had been in decline ever since the beginning of the Greek debt crisis in 2008.

Police have arrested the station master at Larissa, which the passenger train had departed from 12 minutes before the crash. Authorities contend the station master’s negligence was responsible for the crash. However, members of the union believe the government is scapegoating the station master to avoid addressing larger problems within the rail system.

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Residents near Ohio train derailment frustrated with officials downplaying health and environment concerns. State and federal agencies dismiss fears about air, water and soil contamination.


Residents near Ohio train derailment frustrated with officials downplaying health and environment concerns

Concern and frustration is growing in East Palestine, OH, and other nearby communities about the potential dangers and health impacts of a Feb. 3 train derailment. The train was carrying at least 5 cars full of vinyl chloride, a chemical used in making PVC piping among other things. Long-term exposure to this chemical, even at low-levels, is known to cause liver cancers in industrial workers that use it. Besides vinyl chloride, there were at least 5 other dangerous compounds aboard, all of which are highly flammable and have long-term health implications.

But exposure to these chemicals alone is not the only concern. Public health experts have also pointed to the risk of exposure to dioxins, a by-product of the controlled burn of vinyl chloride three days after the accident. Dioxins are also a dangerous carcinogen and, like some of the other chemicals involved, are known to affect the endocrine system. According to Steven Lester of the Center for Health and Environmental Justice, dioxins cause “cancer, reproductive problems, immune problems, diabetes- the list goes on, and on, and on.”

At the crash site, workers also used a firefighting foam containing dangerous chemical compounds called PFAS. These chemicals, often called “forever chemicals”, can persist in soil for decades, and could have entered the water and moved downstream in a plume.

Exposure to this cocktail of toxic chemicals is already having severe health effects on residents. The long-term prospects in the years following exposure can only be guessed at. But you’d never know there was any real problem going by the reaction from federal, state and local authorities. So far, the EPA isn’t even testing for dioxins or PFAS in the air and water.

Widespread symptoms and fears for the future

 Speaking to independent journalists, residents have come forward to share their experiences in the aftermath of the burn. The lady speaking in this video lives 15 miles away from East Palestine. She reported a strong smell in the air, burning eyes and throat, headaches and gastrointestinal bleeding.

She later followed up saying that her doctor confirmed her symptoms were consistent to exposure to these chemicals and that many others had come into his practice with the same symptoms. According to her statement, her doctor also said that there was so little information coming from authorities that local medical professionals were unsure how to proceed. He advised the woman to come in for monthly chest x-rays “to be proactive if anything should start to form”.

This woman’s account is consistent with numerous other nearby residents who have spoken out. Residents say a strong chemical smell still permeates the air. Some describe it as smelling like burning rubber and others say it is similar to formaldehyde. People from miles around are experiencing burning eyes and throats, as well as rashes and severe gastric disorders.

The state of Ohio has opened a free clinic to allay locals’ health concerns. At the clinic, locals can speak to registered nurses, toxicologists and mental health professionals. However, the clinic does not provide prescriptions, blood or urine screenings, conduct any vital sign monitoring or any diagnostic services. 

Contaminated water

Others have pointed to the huge die-off of fish and other animals in nearby waterways. Initially, official reports said that about 3000 fish had died. Now that number is up to nearly 44,000, and includes fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Despite this alarming fact, Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, seemed rather unconcerned about the long-term environmental impact. While she acknowledged that the waterways were contaminated, she expressed optimism about live fish having returned to one local waterway. Mertz also said that there was no sign of animals in distress in the Ohio River, where these waterways ultimately empty out. Mertz said she believed the damage had been minimized, “because the chemicals were contained”. 

Local reports tell a different story. In this video and this video, journalists and locals drop rocks into areas of water that have supposedly been cleaned. An oily rainbow-colored substance (similar to antifreeze puddling on your driveway) immediately bubbles up to the surface. They also report that the water smells strongly after the water is disturbed. 

Residents are understandably concerned about their drinking water being contaminated. Ohio officials have urged people that use well water and women that are pregnant, nursing or using water to make baby formula to use bottled water.

However, state and federal health and environmental agencies have consistently downplayed residents’ concerns that these chemicals could penetrate the ground water. Ohio EPA officials went so far as to pose for a photo-op drinking local water.

Sass says, “It could take days, or weeks, or months [for petrochemicals] to reach groundwater tables or to reach surface water. But it will, these chemicals don’t go away. They will get into those soil and water tables”.

Air quality concerns

The Ohio State EPA and the US EPA have said that their air quality testing haven’t shown levels of chemicals in the air beyond the normal range, including in local homes. However, anecdotal reports paint a different picture. Speaking to StatusCoup, a resident told journalists about one of her neighbors who lived close to one of the contaminated creek. The neighbor’s house had been condemned and her moving costs had been covered, presumably by Norfolk Southern. This only happened after the neighbor insisted on additional testing, after initial testing showed normal levels of chemicals in the air in her home. 

Independent scientists and experts say the agencies’ testing methodology is flawed. The instruments they are using are not sensitive enough and their sampling hasn’t been sufficient to determine the danger posed by chemicals in the air.

Local residents are frustrated with having their concerns dismissed by the agencies, especially with a strong petrochemical smell still hanging in the air. Scientist Jennifer Sass of the National Resource Defense Council says they have good reason to be concerned. Sass says, “If you can smell it, it’s already at levels that’s concerning“. She went on to say that, “There are levels below what we can smell it at that I would still be concerned about”. 

Nothing to see here

Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney says, “There is strong pressure in these situations to create an air of normalcy. But the danger is that the EPA and state officials are moving too quickly and without proper information”.

Whitehouse also pointed out that the agency has a history of declaring a situation safe even when they have evidence indicating otherwise. For example, following the 9/11 disaster, they declared the air around the World Trade Center site safe. We now know that the agency had data at the time showing that it wasn’t. Particulates stirring in the air after the attack caused rare cancers and premature deaths among first responders.

The Ohio EPA’s photo-op is also reminiscent of former President Barack Obama drinking water from Flint, MI, in 2016. Long after that, the people of Flint faced dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking water, as well as several outbreaks of Legionnaires Disease.

For more on this, I encourage you to check out StatusCoup’s twitter feed. 


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Buttigieg sends “sharply worded letter” to train company 16 days after Ohio derailment.

Biden makes surprise visit to Ukrainian capital ahead of Russian war anniversary.

Breaking: Another massive quake strikes Turkey.

Breaking: Another massive quake strikes Turkey 

Just over an hour ago, a 6.4 magnitude struck the southern Turkish province of Hatay. This is now two weeks after two earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.5 struck further east. In those quakes, Hatay was one of Turkey’s worst affected provinces. This quake seems to have been centered on Antakya (ancient Antioch). There, many people have been sleeping in tents since the initial earthquakes hit, afraid to return to their homes with over 100 aftershocks a day still threatening to topple already damaged buildings.

Early reports indicate that more buildings did come down in this quake. It’s too early to say at this moment whether this quake will add significantly to the already astronomically high death toll. Rescue crews are already there on the ground assisting in recovery from the previous quakes. However, the region is likely to experience more strong aftershocks from this quake in the coming hours and days. 

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Buttigieg sends “sharply worded letter” to train company 16 days after Ohio derailment

Yesterday – just over two weeks after the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, OH – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote what ABC News calls a “sharply worded letter” to the CEO of the Norfolk Southern rail company. Worth noting, Buttigieg didn’t address the incident at all for 10 days, despite being head of the relevant department. 

The derailment and the release and controlled burn of vinyl chloride at the site has raised health fears among East Palestine’s 5000 residents. Local authorities ordered an evacuation of the area shortly after the derailment, fearing a catastrophic explosion from the vinyl chloride. Residents were allowed back six days after. Many say they have regretted returning. Locals say that they can still smell strong fumes in the area and have reported various troubling symptoms including burning eyes and throat, loose stools, headaches and rashes.

State authorities have been insistent that the chemical spill has not affected local drinking water supplies. However, residents are not convinced, after a massive die off of fish in local waterways.

Norfolk Southern initially offered to pay the town $25,000, or about $5 per resident. It’s now upped its offer of an “inconvenience fee” to $1000 per household. The company is worth about $55 billion and reported record profits last year

Residents aren’t having it and have launched several lawsuits against the rail company, demanding among other things that the company pay for special medical screenings for anyone exposed to the spill and its aftermath.

What did Buttigieg’s “sharply worded letter” say?

Essentially, Buttigieg calls on Norfolk Southern to pay for the clean-up, “make residents whole”, and accept safety reforms. The letter points out that Norfolk Southern and the entire rail industry has actively lobbied against safety rules changes that would likely have prevented the Feb. 3 incident, or at least limited the scale of the catastrophe.

Specifically, he cited the industry’s efforts to fight tighter rules around high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT). These rules govern the speed at which these trains can travel through populated areas as well was what equipment and personnel have to be on the train. Thanks to lobbying pressure from the rail industry during the Obama administration, the rules for labeling these trains is very lax. As a result, the East Palestine train was not labeled as a high-hazard flammable train, despite carrying at least 5 cars containing highly-flammable and toxic chemicals.

The rail industry lobby was also successful in repealing a rule requiring installation of Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) braking technology during the Trump administration. As a result, the East Palestine train was using the Civil War-era braking technology used on most US rail freight.

NTSB is still investigating the cause of the accident, but it seems clear that poor regulation was at the root of it.

Buttigieg’s poor track record

Buttigieg’s letter concludes, “I expect that Norfolk Southern and other railroads will take action now, not later, to address public safety concerns and better prevent future disasters”. Unfortunately, Buttigieg does not have a good track record of holding companies accountable when it comes to repeated systemic failures.

For example, he failed to meaningfully tackle or address thousands of flight cancellations last summer. It wasn’t until the summer travel season was nearly over that Buttigieg threatened to take any action against airlines that did not offer inconvenienced travelers a full refund. Both Republican and Democratic Senators also blasted Buttigieg for his handling of the Southwest Airlines meltdown in December, and for his absence from a Senate hearing on the subject.

Before joining Biden’s Cabinet, Buttigieg was Mayor of South Bend, IN, from 2012 to 2020, earning him the moniker “Mayor Pete”. His greatest transportation-related accomplishment as Mayor of South Bend was putting some decorative lights on a bridge.

In his two years leading the Department of Transportation, Buttigieg has had ample opportunity to raise concerns about woefully inadequate safety regulations on the railroads. He did not. Admittedly, these failures to legislate and regulate predate his tenure. Still, two years is a long time for the Secretary of Transportation to say nothing about this immense problem. So is 16 days.

You can read the full contents of Buttigieg’s “sharply worded letter” by clicking here and scrolling down the page (opens in new tab).



Biden makes surprise visit to Ukrainian capital ahead of Russian war anniversary

This Friday, Feb. 24, will mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ahead of this sad occasion, President Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Biden reiterated US and Western support for Ukraine’s fight and pledged a further $500 million in US financial aid. He also commended the Ukrainians for holding out for a year against all odds. This time a year ago, most thought the war would be over in two weeks.

In addition to the anniversary, the timing of Biden’s visit coincides with a moment of increasing division among Ukraine’s allies. Zelenskyy has been aggressively campaigning for his allies to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine ahead of a renewed Russian offensive. He’s been asking for them since March last year, though with little hope of receiving them. After Germany and the US recently agreed to send battle tanks, a move they’d long resisted, Zelenskyy doubled and tripled down on his requests for F-16s.

Some of the allies, like Ukraine’s neighbor Poland, are all too eager to send them, but are waiting for some sign of support from the US, France, the UK or Germany. Over the weekend, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield may have signaled increased willingness by the US to supply the jets. Thomas-Greenfield says the US is “still having discussions” with Ukrainians on the subject.

One very good argument against supplying the jets to Ukraine is that it might just be the final push needed for China to begin supplying weapons to Russia.

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Suspect in custody after mass shooting in Tate County, MS.

Worried residents see cover-up in Ohio train derailment.



Suspect in custody after mass shooting in Tate County, MS

Richard Dale Crum, 52, has been identified as the suspect. Crum’s ex-wife was among those killed.

Six people have been fatally shot and another injured by a suspect in Arkabutla, MS, in Tate County, a town of about 300 people. The suspect has been identified as Richard Dale Crum, 52. Crum’s ex-wife is among the slain. Crum is in custody and there are no other suspects at large. Authorities haven’t identified any of the other victims.

The story is developing and details of how the crimes unfolded are still coming to light. Tate County Sheriff Brad Lance said he believes the shooting began in a store where one person was killed. The shooter then  drove to a nearby home where he fatally shot a woman and injured her fiancee. After that, the shooter arrived at a home on Arkabutla Dam Road and shot and killed two people there. Authorities believe that the suspect resided at the Arkabutla Dam Road location.

Following the Arkabutla Dam Road incident, a Tate County deputy spotted a car that fit the suspect’s description. After unsuccessfully attempting to get the driver to stop, the deputy gave chase. 

The shooter then pulled into the driveway of another nearby home where authorities apprehended him. There authorities found the last two victims dead, one in a car and one in the roadway.

This is the second deadly mass shooting in Mississippi this month. On Feb. 12, 5 people were injured and one killed in Louisville, MS, in Winston County. Four teens and one adult are in custody in connection with that incident.

This is the 81st mass shooting this year in the US, just 48 days into 2023. This count includes all incidents in which 4 or more people are killed or injured in a shooting.

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Worried residents see cover-up in Ohio train derailment

Yesterday, Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, posted a series of tweets accusing the media and members of the public of spreading “misinformation” about the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, OH. Homendy’s lengthy Twitter thread began with “First, a message to the community…then a plea to those spreading misinformation”. 

She continued: “To everyone affected: know that @NTSB is working vigorously to understand what caused this train derailment — so it never happens again”.

“…Anyone speculating about what happened, didn’t happen, or should’ve happened is misleading a suffering community – PLEASE STOP SPREADING MISINFORMATION. For example…

“Some are saying the ECP (electronically controlled pneumatic) brake rule, if implemented, would’ve prevented this derailment. FALSE – here’s why…

“The ECP braking rule would’ve applied ONLY to HIGH HAZARD FLAMMABLE TRAINS. The train that derailed in East Palestine was a MIXED FREIGHT TRAIN containing only 3 placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars.

“This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn’t have had ECP brakes.”


Homendy’s fraught response only begs another obvious question. How or why was this train, carrying 5 cars of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic and flammable material, not classified as a “high hazard flammable train”?

“Don’t ask questions”

Tracey Hoffman, who lives two-tenths of a mile from the derailment, is one of many concerned East Palestine residents. Hoffman has stopped using her tap water due to contamination fears. She’s also joined one of several class action lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, who operated the rerailed train.

Despite assurances from the EPA that the water is safe to drink and that the fumes residents are smelling aren’t dangerous, locals continue to report troublesome symptoms. These include rashes, burning throats and eyes, and diarrhea. Independent analysts have expressed doubt that the the environmental sampling conducted is sufficient to be conclusive about the danger to residents. But when residents seek answers, Hoffman bluntly described the response from authorities: “It’s been, ‘Don’t ask questions'”

Charges dropped against arrested reporter

Last week, NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert-McMichael was arrested at a news conference in East Palestine, held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other officials to update information on the train derailment. Bodycam footage shows officers approaching Lambert-McMichael and asking him to stop reporting, claiming it was “too loud”. An argument then breaks out, and Ohio National Guard’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. John Harris, approaches and pushes Lambert-McMichael.

Lambert-McMichael was charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Wednesday that those charges would be dropped. Yost wrote, “The reporter was lawfully present at a press conference called by the Governor of the state. His conduct was consistent with the purpose of the event and his role as a reporter.”

Gov. DeWine said of the incident “This reporter who was reporting live from the back of the room never should have been asked to stop, never should have been told to be quiet. That was a big, big mistake. And you know, the person who did that, I’ve explained to them and I’m sure that he’ll never, never do that again”.



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Ohio train derailment: Railroad reps ditch town meeting.

Georgia: Partial grand jury report released on Trump election meddling.

Peru: Report finds racial bias in deadly crackdown on indigenous protesters.



Ohio train derailment: Railroad reps ditch town meeting

Representatives from Norfolk Southern canceled an appearance at a town meeting in East Palestine, OH, at the last minute, citing “physical threats”. 

This statement from Norfolk Southern read out at the meeting: “Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening”. Local authorities said they had no knowledge of any “threats” to Norfolk Southern employees.

Over 200 locals had gathered for the meeting to address residents’ health concerns following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals. Residents have reported sicknesses and deaths in small animals. Some have reported experiencing adverse effects themselves. Candice Desanzo, who evacuated the area with her small children and returned after officials gave the all clear. She now regrets her decision to return. “We all have red rashes, loose stool, congestion, eyes burning,” Desanzo said. “Everything smells. I have been having terrible headaches”.

State and local officials and even the EPA have downplayed the risks, assuring residents the fumes weren’t concentrated enough to be harmful to humans. But Peter DeCarlo of Johns Hopkins University says he wouldn’t want to be in the area based on the data he’s seen. “First off, I have two small children,” DeCarlo said, “And I’d be especially concerned for their health”. According to DeCarlo, the air monitoring and air sampling conducted in the area also isn’t sufficient to measure whether there are emissions from the crash site. “Clearly, there are [emissions] if people are still smelling fumes”, DeCarlo said.

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Partial grand jury report released on Trump election interference

The office of Fulton County (Georgia) District Attorney Fani Willis has released part of a report from a grand jury probe into 2020 election interference in compliance with a court order earlier this week. Three sections of the report were released, the introduction, conclusion and one section pertaining to concerns about perjury by witnesses who appeared before the grand jury. “A majority of the Grand Jury believes that perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses testifying before it,” the report said.

The report doesn’t name which witnesses the panel believed gave false testimony. Among those who testified under subpoena were several prominent Trump allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Trump himself wasn’t subpoenaed and did not testify.

The report indicates that recommendations were made for indictments against one or more individuals, who were not identified. Willis has said decisions on potential indictments in the case are “imminent”. 

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Peru: report finds racial bias in brutal crackdown on indigenous protesters

A scathing report from Amnesty International finds that racial animosity by Peru’s white ruling class was a driving force in the deadly crackdown on indigenous protesters. Protests began back in December when Peru’s elected president Pedro Castillo was deposed. Castillo, himself an indigenous school teacher, had butted heads with the elites who control the country’s Congress throughout his 17 months in power.

The congress tried twice to impeach Castillo on vague charges which critics say were a cover for a political and racist agenda. When Congress mounted a third impeachment attempt, Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and call snap elections. Castillo was then impeached and imprisoned for rebellion.

His ouster enraged Peru’s indigenous communities who have been ignored and oppressed by Lima’s elites for decades. Protests sprang up all over the country, resulting in at least 60 deaths to date at the hands of the country’s security forces. Demonstrations persist, demanding that the country’s president Dina Boluarte (Castillo’s former VP) to step down and call elections. Boluarte has so far refused to step down and Congress has refused to call new elections.

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With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections.

Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment.

Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold nine days after earthquake.




With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections

Last year, two major companies, meatpacker JBS and automaker Hyundai, found themselves in an unwelcome spotlight for numerous child labor law violations. Hyundai subsidiary SMART Alabama LLC was found to have illegally employed children as young as 12 in its metalworking plant in Luverne, AL. This turned out to be just one of 10 Hyundai and Kia suppliers violating child labor laws in Alabama.

In a separate case, the Labor Department discovered that Packers Sanitation Services, or PSSI, a cleaning subcontractor for JBS, had illegally employed at least 31 minors, aged between 13 and 17, to do dangerous overnight work. The cleaners use caustic chemicals, and at least one underage worker suffered severe burns. The Labor Department also accused PSSI of interfering in the investigation. PSSI allegedly altered or deleted employment records and intimidated underage workers to discourage them from cooperating with the probe.

Republican-led statehouses want more child labor

Republican lawmakers in Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio are now introducing legislation that would relax restrictions on child labor. Wisconsin’s GOP-led legislature recently passed a measure to expand legal working hours for 14 and 15-year-olds, but the state’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed it. All these states are experiencing labor shortages in certain industries as adult workers have moved on to seek more competitive wages elsewhere. GOP lawmakers defend opening the child labor market as a way to fill the gaps without raising wages. 

Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio all seek to expand the number of hours an underage worker can work and relax restrictions on how late they can work. The bills in Iowa and Minnesota also want to lift restrictions on kids working dangerous jobs. The Minnesota bill would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to work construction.

In Iowa, children are prohibited from working in slaughterhouses, meatpacking or rendering plants; mining; operating power-driven metal forming, punching or shearing machines; operating band or circular saws, guillotine shears or paper balers; or working in roofing or demolition. However, Iowa’s new bill sets up a clever workaround to allow kids aged 14 to 17 to work in these dangerous jobs by designating their employment as a “work-based learning” program. The bill would also shield employers from lawsuits if kids are killed or injured doing these dangerous jobs.

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Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment

Officials fear that a Feb. 3 train derailment and a subsequent controlled release and burn of toxic chemicals may have contaminated the water in East Palestine, OH. The train was carrying 6 cars full of vinyl chloride, an industrial chemical known to cause rare liver cancers. Experts say the burn of the vinyl chloride may have also released dioxins. These are long-cancerous environmental pollutants. 

Ahead of the burn, authorities evacuated the surrounding area. Residents got the all clear to come home last Thursday. But since then, at least 3,500 fish have died off in local lakes and waterways. Locals have also reported rescue foxes and cats suddenly becoming sick and dying. Officials have also confirmed contamination of local waterways, though they initially said this wasn’t a concern. However, a 2019 assessment found that local aquifers had a greater danger of contamination because of a lack of protective clay.

Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of Ohio’s Department of Health, has downplayed these concerns. Nevertheless, Vanderhoff urged residents, especially those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or feeding formula to use bottled water until a full contamination assessment can be done. 

The railroad company in question, Norfolk-Southern, has said it will be digging test wells around the area to monitor the groundwater. Initially, Norfolk-Southern, a company worth $55 billion, offered to cut the town a check for $25,000- $5 for each of East Palestine’s 5000 inhabitants. 

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More: How Norfolk-Southern and other rail companies blocked safety regulations before the derailment (opens in new tab).



Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold days after earthquake

The death toll of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last Monday has risen to over 41,000. The shambolic disaster response by Turkey’s government has been widely criticized. But across the border in war torn Syria, the response has been even slower to materialize. This is in part because of the civil war that has been going on in Syria since 2010. Over the last few years, the fight has narrowed to the northern part of the country. There, the government of Bashar Al-Assad, with support from Russian military and mercenary forces, has been fighting to retake Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold. Four million of the people living in this enclave already relying on aid for their survival even before the quake.

The rescue and recovery process in government-held areas has been arduous. In the rebel-held areas, aid groups and even humanitarian convoys have largely been kept out. The rebels blame Assad for the blockade, while Assad blames the rebels.

It wasn’t until three days after the quake that the first UN aid arrived through the single crossing into the rebel-held area through Turkey. The US and UN have been urging Assad to open more crossing points into the rebel-held areas since the quake happened. Yesterday, the first UN aid convoys finally entered through a newly-opened crossing point. Assad has agreed to open two more crossing points for a total of four.

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Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!

Toxic gas concerns linger after Ohio train derailment.

Chinese spy balloon: Diplomatic and political fallout continues.

Turkey-Syria quake: Death toll tops 12,000. Anger turns towards Erdogan.



Toxic gas concerns linger after Ohio train derailment

Last Friday, a cargo train derailed in a fiery crash in East Palestine, OH, near the state border with Pennsylvania. The train was carrying a shipment of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic and unstable chemical used in making PVC pipes among other things. Fearing a potential explosion and an uncontrolled release of the toxin, authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for a wide area around the derailed train cars.

On Monday, a crew of workers emptied five of the tankers carrying the vinyl chloride. They then released it into a ditch for a controlled burn. The burn created a dark plume of smoke visible from miles away. Even now on Wednesday, authorities haven’t allowed evacuees to return due to concerns about the immediate effects of burning off the chemicals.

Vinyl chloride has been linked with rare liver cancers in pipe workers with prolonged exposure. Burning the chemical also releases phosgene glass, a chemical once used as a weapon of war. Phosgene is a colorless but smelly gas that can cause vomiting and breathing problems. But Neil Donahue, a professor chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, says the biggest potential long-term worry for residents could be dioxins that will be a biproduct of the burn. Dioxins are known carcinogens that can last in the ground and body for years.  

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Chinese spy balloon: Diplomatic and political fallout continues

Days ago, a US warplane shot down the Chinese balloon that had traversed the entire continental US in shallow water off South Carolina. A military recovery operation then got underway, collecting the debris using remote-controlled submarines in the frigid water. Military and intelligence agencies will analyze the debris in hopes of discovering the purpose and capabilities of the balloon’s apparatus. However, sources in both the military and intelligence communities have already come to the conclusion that the balloon’s purpose was espionage.

When the balloon’s presence in the US first came to national attention last week, Pentagon officials were quick to tell the public that they were certain it was Chinese in origin, and that it had been hovering over sensitive military installations. Nevertheless, officials said they believed it posed no military or intelligence threat and that there was no need to shoot it down. The balloon was taller than the Statue of Liberty and carried the size of two or three school buses. Shooting it down would have posed more of a danger than any intelligence it collected.

The reaction and the political and diplomatic consequences of the balloon were in many ways out of all proportion to any threat its presence posed to the US. We’ve since learned that similar balloons entered US airspace three times during Donald Trump’s administration and on one prior occasion during Biden’s presidency. In those instances, the balloons were too high to be seen from the ground with the naked eye or to pose any danger to aviation. The balloon’s spying capabilities were judged to pose no greater security threat than China’s sophisticated array of low-orbit spy satellites. Weighing all of these considerations, officials decided the most appropriate action was to take no action.

99 Luftballoons

This time, the reaction to a highly visible balloon apparently violating US airspace with impunity was decidedly different. Not only did it create a national uproar, with reactionary politicians of both parties calling for it be shot down (posing unknown dangers to people and structures on the ground), it also widened the rift between the US and China. Last weekend, Sec. of State Antony Blinken was due to travel to Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterpart. Once there, it was hoped we could find some common ground with the world’s other superpower and possibly find a path towards coexistence. Instead, Blinken’s trip was cancelled.

Chinese officials have also lashed out, likely out of embarrassment. Dubbing the balloon a “civilian airship”, Beijing officials slammed the US lack of “restraint” in shooting it down. They vowed to avenge the loss, saying China “retains the right to respond further”. This was a marked escalation in a years-long war of words between the two countries.

Because of this relatively minor incident, China and the US could now find themselves on the road from cold war to hot war unless cooler heads prevail. Regardless, this likely won’t be the last we hear about it, as Republican members of Congress are determined to use the incident to portray Biden as “weak” on national security, and Biden’s bellicose tone in his remarks on China during the State of the Union last night suggests he’s playing right into it.

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Turkey-Syria quake: Death toll tops 12,000. Anger turns towards Erdogan.

Rescue efforts continue in Turkey and Syria after two powerful quakes hit Monday morning. Volunteer rescue teams from 65 countries have arrived or are en route. In Turkey, the sheer scale of the disaster, with at least 6000 multi-story buildings toppled in across 10 provinces, means there simply isn’t enough personnel or equipment to attend all the scenes. In desperation, family members are digging with shovels and sometimes with bare hands to reach loved ones trapped alive in the rubble. The situation is equally grim in war-torn Syria where bureaucratic red tape and the danger of live fire make it difficult or impossible to get aid in. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is touring the disaster-hit areas in the south of his country. Amid growing anger and frustration at the government’s inability to cope with the tragedy, Erdogan made a rare admission of “shortcomings” in the initial response. He made these remarks in the particularly hard hit Hatay province. Much of its ancient city of Antioch (or Antakya) was flattened, including its state-run hospital. Hatay has long been neglected by Ankara, even before Erdogan, in part because of its largely Arab population. It remains one of the country’s poorest regions and was already suffering more than most of Turkey in the country’s recent economic downturn

Despite this, Hatay has been a political stronghold for Erdogan, who has courted Islamic fundamentalism. Southern Turkey, and particularly Hatay, is less culturally secular than the rest of Turkey. With a tough re-election fight coming in May, Erdogan visited with promises of a 10,000 lira ($532) payout to each family affected by the quake. This is about 2 months’ wages for the average worker in Antakya.

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Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!

Three Rivers Planning and Development District has received a $600,000 Brownfield Coalition Assessment Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, some of which will be used to benefit Lee, Pontotoc and Union counties.

Specifically, money will be used to conduct assessments of property that is not being used, or cannot be developed or sold, because of suspected environmental contamination. Thirty percent of the grant must be spent in New Albany, Pontotoc and Tupelo, the coalition cities that are primary grant benefactors.

The remaining 70 percent can be spent in the eight counties served by Three Rivers: Calhoun, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lafayette, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union.

There is no specific amount designated for any entity other than that projects in New Albany, Pontotoc and Tupelo must make up 30 percent of the total. The money will be allocated on what amounts to a first-come first served basis for eligible projects.

The goal is to clear these properties for sale and reuse in cases where property owners may not be financially able to do so.

Coordinators say this can lead to increased property values for the sites and surrounding areas, generate more local tax revenue, prevent urban sprawl through use of more central areas, and save on infrastructure costs by incorporating what’s already there.

Both privately owned and public lands are eligible for this assessment.

There are some conditions for eligibility, however.

The property must have development potential, there must be suspected contamination, the present owner must not be responsible for that contamination, and there has to be access to the property to be assessed.

If contamination is found, Three Rivers will apply for cleanup grant funds to mitigate environmental damage and secure a No Further Action ruling from EPA. This would allow sale or development of the property assuring no risk to the owner as it secures compliance with EPA regulations.

If Three Rivers cannot find cleanup funds, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA, and environmental consulting team will work with the property owner to develop a mitigation strategy to contain contamination to the site itself and mitigate further damage. This would allow a Certificate of Completion letter.

Community participation is needed to help cull this inventory of sites and, if necessary, include overlooked sites the Brownfield Advisory Committee is unaware of.

The Three Rivers Planning and Development District Assessment Grant funding is community wide, meaning sites within the entire TRPDD area are eligible for assessment.

As noted, coalition partners are the City of New Albany, the City of Pontotoc, and the City of Tupelo, which serve as the target areas for assessment activities in addition to the larger Three Rivers Planning and Development District region as a whole, which includes Pontotoc, Lee, Monroe, Itawamba, Union, Lafayette, Calhoun, Chickasaw counties and their municipalities.

The project was awarded Aug. 4 and the project period is until Aug. 4, 2023 at which time all grant funds must be expended.

Those involved in the project have developed a priority list of properties that could be assessed in each county, but stress this list is not inclusive. They will be seeking comments and suggestions from the public as the project progresses.

The two projects initially chosen in Union County are the Carr Oil property at Glenfield where petroleum contamination is possible, and the seven acres where the farmers’ market has been held on the bank of the Tallahatchie River downtown.

Past uses of the river-adjacent property included an automotive dealership and mechanic shop, later a John Deere farming equipment sales and maintenance facility. With all traces of the structures removed, the area fell victim to use as an illegal dumping ground for waste tires, unwanted farming equipment and other trash and debris, forcing the city to expend funds to address the illegal dumping and increase police patrols of the area.

The farmers’ market site could see a variety of types of development and the Glenfield site happens to be where the intersection of West Bankhead Street and Glenfield Road could be widened. Due to its proximity to the industrial park, that intersection sees fairly heavy truck traffic and trucks often have difficulty making the turn onto or from Glenfield Road.

The property is currently delinquent on taxes and could be acquired by the city as part of their redevelopment plans given the site’s key location on the main travel corridor. The known groundwater contamination and potential for vapor intrusion remain a risk to neighboring residential and commercial property, and makes this site a priority target for assessment.

Other Union County sites mentioned included the former Federal Fertilizer plant on Hwy. 15 North, the parking lot behind Tallahatchie Gourmet that was once home to an auto dealer, and Riverside Furniture and Antiques on Highland (the assessment project also includes possible asbestos contamination).

The Pontotoc project listed initially is the former Pontotoc City Sanitary Landfill, which was used as a dumpsite prior to the Three Rivers site creation. It likely contains acetone and other chemicals, some of which came from the Ram Golf manufacturing plant. After decommissioning, the site converted ownership from the City to the previous owner who is financially unable to address the cost of further testing or cleanup.

The first Tupelo site listed was the former Block Corp. Textile Mill on Main Street. The former textile mill operation remained open for more than 50 years until the early 2000s and was partially demolished after tornado damage in 2012. There is concern that use, storage and disposal of dyes and chemicals from the textile operation may have led to off-site shallow groundwater contamination on the surrounding residential and light commercial properties.

Primary sites in target areas were determined in collaboration with each of the target area local government officials to identify sites most in need that also have development potential. A full inventory of sites was developed in conjunction with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, local officials, residents, PPM Consultants, and TRPDD examination of physical sites. It will be publicized later. Beyond the target sites, the remaining site selections will be heavily dependent on input from the community and from the Brownfields Advisory Committee.

The initial inventory includes more than 70 properties in the coalition area and larger Three Rivers footprint significantly impacted by industrial fluctuations, concentrated poverty, demonstrate the capacity to positively impact the largest number of community members, and have the greatest environmental health outcomes with remediation assistance.

The initial assessment would involve two phases. First would be a determination whether contamination is likely to exist and second would be actual sampling. Project coordinators hope the first phase could be done in December with the second phase in the spring.

In the culling of sites, grant funds are available for 10-15 hazardous substance and 10-15 petroleum Phase I environmental site assessments among coalition partners and the TRPDD region.

They anticipate that of these, there will be six to eight hazardous waste site Phase II ESAs with sampling, six to eight petroleum site Phase II ESAs, and five Analysis of Brownfields Cleanup Alternatives (ABCAs) that will help examine sites for remedial action planning. In addition, three community health assessments for the coalition partners will be conducted.

The New Albany Brownfields Advisory Committee had an introductory meeting Nov. 16 with subsequent meetings planned to be held quarterly. The first Tupelo meeting was Nov. 17 and the Pontotoc meeting was Nov. 18.

The meetings will be held in the three coalition cities if the COVID-19 situation allows, and via Zoom if in-person meetings are still considered a risk.

The next quarterly public meeting is planned for 3 p.m. Feb. 18, the same time and date for all three coalition cities. Meeting locations are:


Three Rivers Planning and Development District

75 South Main Street

Pontotoc, MS 38863



Union County Heritage Museum

114 Cleveland St.

New Albany, MS 38652



Downtown Tupelo Farmer’s Depot (weather permitting)

415 South Spring Street

Tupelo, MS 38804


All project-related materials and updated information can be found at the following physical and digital locations. Materials include monthly progress updates, responses to questions and comments, copies of Phase I and II ESAs and Cleanup Plans, and public notices for upcoming meetings will also be posted at these physical locations and with media outlets.


Three Rivers Planning and

Development District

75 South Main Street

Pontotoc, MS 38863



City of New Albany

101 West Bankhead

New Albany, MS 38652




City of Pontotoc

116 N. Main St.

Pontotoc, MS 38863



City of Tupelo

71 East Troy Street

Tupelo, MS 38804




The project manager is Jenny Savely, certified community developer with Three Rivers Planning and Development District.