Media attention in a doomscrolling, algorithm-driven Anthropocene means that large disasters become a short moment. Earlier this year, the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio only captured public attention for about a week. An accident involving a truck transporting contaminated soil from East Palestine may show the fault in this short attention-spanned media landscape.
On April 10, a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of contaminated soil from East Palestine spilled after the truck tipped over in a crash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly half of the soil was on the highway in Columbiana County, Ohio. One environmental disaster has now spread across two incidents.
The original derailment and subsequent spilling of soil following the initial disaster show the instability of our transportation systems in this country. Infrastructure is a crucial part of environmental concerns as potentially hazardous chemicals travel throughout the United States as part of our manufacturing process. Unfortunately, this often means that chemical spills occur in some of our most precious ecosystems already damaged by railroad and highway traffic.
Maintaining public pressure from companies to be transparent with their operations is tricky when the 24-hour news cycle demands that constantly shifting stories need our attention. When we as a nation don’t take the time to reflect on disasters like East Palestine, its inevitable that a similar event will happen in the future.
Tangible change to prevent and reverse the climate crisis will require careful attention and following stories of an environmental disaster well after the initial event. To make change, we need to keep stories like East Palestine at the forefront of our news as a reminder of the desperate state of our planet.
East Palestine shows us how environmental disasters get swept under the rug. As the 2024 election cycle begins, we must ask ourselves which candidates and companies will prioritize the safety of people and our planet over profit. The disaster also shows us how industries like chemicals and transportation affect the environment unpredictably. Climate activism will require demanding corporations and our government to go beyond performative works of sustainability and create more long-lasting solutions to prevent incidents like the derailment of trains and the spilling of contaminated materials.
The Norfolk South Company estimates that 17,000 tons of contaminated soil remain in East Palestine.
Caroline Geer is from Norhville, Mich.
Her majors are race and ethnic studies and sociology and anthropology.