“This cleanup is gonna be a Febreze!” exclaimed one Norfolk Southern Railway representative.
Photo by Amit Roth
On February 3, 50 cars in a 150-car train derailed near East Palestine, OH, 20 of which contained hazardous chemicals that spilled into the Ohio River. Residents were encouraged to evacuate, and although many have returned to their homes, community concerns about air and water quality remain. “The EPA says the air is fine, but I’m not convinced,” resident Concerta Sitazen stated. “But there’s still a sweet chemical-ly smell. You can’t tell me that’s not having some effect.” Scientists have assured residents that the residual smell is not indicative of air quality, as levels are below dangerous benchmarks.
Responding to the town’s concerns, Norfolk Southern Railway released a statement. “We are deeply sorry for the role that we played in this disaster, but also, like, chill out maybe? We know the air smells bad, but we’ve got that covered.”
A viral TikTok showcasing the chemical burn flume tagged “#notsponsored” was posted to the company account. In the post, the rail shipping company announced they would be mass spraying Febreze over the town to combat the smell. “Febreze fights air odors without masking, leaving nothing behind but a light, fresh scent!” When questioned by reporters and scientists as to the safety or efficacy of such a proposal, a representative responded, “It doesn’t matter. The smell will be gone. That’s what you guys care about, right?”
Following Norfolk’s statement, residents took to the streets and the media in protest of the initiative. “You’re fighting air pollution with more air pollution!” organizer Addie Vista said in an interview. “Over 3,500 fish have already died. And birds. Did you know Febreze isn’t recommended to spray in homes with birds? What I’m trying to say is that people will die. Which sucks, categorically, so maybe we shouldn’t? Just a suggestion.”
In an attempt to clear further concerns, atmospheric scientist Indy S. Treeplant published an initial report certifying that the initiative was “100% verifiably most certainly” safe. “Febreze has been tested and approved for home use, and this preliminary study reveals that claims of adverse effects are overstated.” Norfolk Southern Railway then released a legal disclaimer after consulting with tobacco industry lawyers. “We advise against going outside your house for 24 hours after the Febreze spray occurs. Any medical costs associated with lung cancer or inhalant addiction treatment are the fault of the individual for incurring risk by violating company recommendation; Norfolk Southern Railway is not liable for such damages.”
“This is absurd,” Vista commented. “So it’s safe, but we can’t leave our houses for 24 hours unless we want to get cancer?! We need to be able to hold people accountable for this stuff.” Vista sighed and continued, “But it’s not like anyone cares about rural Rust Belt America. For decades, our communities have been subjected to all kinds of environmental and occupational hazards with car manufacturing and oil and coal mining with no legal recourse. And the tobacco industry intentionally marketed cigarettes to minority communities — knowing full well they caused cancer — and got away with it for decades. It’s so challenging to actually effect change. The lead crisis in Flint got so much coverage, but they still don’t have clean water.”
When asked about the future of East Palestine, Vista added, “Who knows what things will look like in 30 years, when some ‘groundbreaking’ study comes out that allows us to take Norfolk to court. But the damage will already be done, and I wish it didn’t have to take that long. In the meantime, I’ll learn to love the smell of sandalwood and fresh cotton.”
Kaz Nuckowski is a Copy Editor for the Muir Quarterly. They are usually found in Half Dome laughing and encouraging students to share their wit or giving their own suggestions to make everyone else laugh. Never doubt Kaz and their skills because they will surprise you, especially when the spread has a comic open and they are feeling inspired!