In 1962 American marine biologist Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring.”

Widely regarded as the work that propelled environmentalism into the mainstream, Carson’s work focused on the chemical industry, its production of pesticides, and the marketing used by companies to spread false information about the effects of their products on people and the environment.

For decades, the hazards of chemicals produced by private industry and the military have endangered citizens and poisoned ecosystems.

For more than a century, the world has witnessed chemicals used in warfare. Many people are at least vaguely familiar with World War I and World War II-era weapons chlorine gas, mustard gas and Zyklon B, and the Vietnam-era usage of napalm and Agent Orange.

After millions of casualties, deaths and birth defects due to exposure to chemical weapons, governments across the globe signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons in 1997. Today only Israel, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan remain uncommitted to the agreement.

World governments have destroyed 98.39% of their declared chemical weapons as of 2021. While exposure to toxic chemicals via military weapons has declined, exposure to dangerous chemicals still occurs today. Just seven weeks ago in East Palestine, Ohio, a Norfolk Southern train derailed, causing 20 cars to spill toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, isobutylene, and benzene.

As a result of the derailment, many train cars burst into flames and continued to burn for days. On Feb. 6, Norfolk Southern officials executed a “controlled burn” of five additional tankers of vinyl chloride not breached during the derailment. A massive plume of thick black smoke rose into the sky, exposing thousands of citizens to chemicals, the effects of which may not be known for years or even decades.

On Feb. 8, Norfolk Southern resumed operation on the rail line through East Palestine. As of March 6, Norfolk Southern has pledged $7.4 million to state agencies and community members in the area — 0.00085% of its $8.651 billion profit in 2022.

Penalties, payoffs and donations are just the price of doing business for large corporations in the United States. Lobbyists and major campaign contributors strong-arm politicians at all levels of government to keep regulations loose and penalties — both financial and criminal — to a minimum. Profit is the only motivating factor for a corporation.

Those from Central Indiana will remember the Guide Lamp fish kill in 1999, a prime example of a corporation ignoring regulations and safety protocols in a quest for profits. Others may recall the PG+E water contamination in Hinkley, California, or the Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rachel Carson sounded the alarm on the health and environmental risks associated with chemical exposure in 1962. That alarm is still sounding 61 years later.

Eliot Reed, an Anderson native, is the owner of Park Place Arts, a custom frame shop and art gallery in Anderson. He is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition.

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