Fourth Estate/Allison Alberty

In the thick of talk of national security threats, the United States may have been presented with a new one: the Ohio train derailment. 


On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride (a highly toxic, flammable, carcinogenic gas) to Conway, Pa., derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Authorities quickly implemented a controlled burn of the train’s hazardous material, but concern among residents in the area, are concerned about the effects of the train derailment on their health and well-being, imposing a threat that demands attention and action. 

National security does not only work to defend the United States from external forces but internal forces as well – such as maintaining a food supply and protecting the United States from environmental devastation. In East Palestine, however, there is not a secure food supply nor protection against environmental harm. Residents were continuously drinking out of solely bottled water, livestock have died off and according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, an estimated 3,500 fish have died and seven and a half miles of water stream have been poisoned by the chemicals. While it is too soon to tell what long-term effects the disaster will have on the local residents, the results could be detrimental. 

The recent train derailment is not the first environmental disaster of its kind – there is a pattern of these crises throughout the nation. The water scarcity issues in Flint, Mich. and Jackson, Miss. have long been undermined. Additionally, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or even the Taylor Energy oil spill have all been disastrous and wreaked havoc on the surrounding environments and local residents’ well-being.  The incidents are not external national security threats, but internal – caused by a continuously run-down infrastructure system that moves slowly to updates and has weak safety requirements or a pattern of choices that favors convenience and profit over safety, creating a system that continues to send toxic chemicals through communities where people and livestock live. 

After the recent Ohio train derailment disaster, we must ask ourselves: Will we be forced to watch the same disasters pan out across the country, in different counties, until the entirety of the United States is forced to drink bottled water, and we have even less viable farmland and livestock in our secure food supply?

We must demand that the national security threat of environmental harm be taken just as seriously as external national security threats before it is too late.