Society environment

Kicking Train Safety Regulators in the Caboose


It’s been just over a month since a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. And it's been 20 years since Britney Spears predicted the disaster with her hit single, "Toxic." What's since become clear is that Americans' love for Britney is only matched by their hatred for a corporation unleashing noxious chemicals into a residential area in a totally preventable accident.


In what has become a long slog of a cleanup, it’s less clear who Americans believe should be forced to wield what we can only assume is some sort of outdoor mop situation. And given the implications for policymakers, it’s also useful to know who Americans think should be responsible for ensuring that those outdoor mops never need to be used again.



A plurality of Americans believe:


  • A lack of safety regulations is most to blame for the train derailment (43%);
  • Norfolk Southern is most responsible for fixing the ongoing situation in East Palestine (34%); and
  • safety regulators should take the lead on ensuring this never happens again (38%).

In the days and weeks after the train derailment, residents reported new (largely respiratory) health issues, which they attributed to the air quality in, and around, East Palestine. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insisted that the air quality remains normal. When asked who they trust more to be right about the air quality, 65% of Americans would take the word of local residents over that of the EPA. To be fair, it is hard to believe the EPA’s official explanation that everyone in East Palestine simultaneously decided to start celebrating Vape Tuesdays.*


And like any remotely political story (predictably involving the upper Midwest 🙄) over the last several years, there is, of course, a Donald Trump angle. At least this one does not, to our knowledge, involve interviewing undecided voters at a diner set up inside one of the derailed train cars.

The 2024 presidential candidate visited the site of the disaster and criticized the Biden Administration’s response. When forced to choose whether they think Trump visited because he was showing leadership or because he was scoring political points ahead of 2024, 59% of Americans chose the latter.


*In case it isn’t as clear as the air in East Palestine, there is no Vape Tuesday in the area. It’s only celebrated in the Great Smoky Mountains.**

**That was also a joke.