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Reactions: The response in East Palestine, Ohio, and regulation on plastic packaging

April 18, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 12


Letters to the editor

East Palestine, Ohio

Thanks for publishing Priyanka Runwal’s fine article on East Palestine, Ohio, in the Feb. 26, 2024, issue of C&EN (page 24).

The Norfolk Southern train derailment should have received a prompt federal response since the onboard cargo was being used in interstate commerce (from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania). The State of Ohio did respond to this disaster, but it took some poking and prodding for the state to act.

I spoke to the governor’s representative in my region, who indicated that the state maintains multiple boards and commissions. The State Emergency Response Commission looked like a good choice for active engagement. But membership was limited to elected officials, emergency management personnel, environmental advocates, firefighters, first responders, industry and trade personnel, law enforcement personnel, and utility personnel. Nothing to engage scientists and engineers in this emergency.

The lack of an expert in science and engineering in charge rendered communication of the facts to residents of East Palestine, people in the nearby communities, and those who sought answers to be spotty at best.

It is my considered opinion that the decision to vent and burn the vinyl chloride was made without expert consultation. As Runwal’s piece noted, former American Chemical Society president William Carroll pointed out in a hearing that the polymerization reaction of vinyl chloride to polyvinyl chloride requires an initiator. Free radicals, such as chemicals containing peroxides, can initiate polymerization. I don’t know whether the conditions existed for the polymerization of vinyl chloride to have occurred.

People in the East Palestine region are still suffering from the response to the derailment. The federal government response to East Palestine must not be the norm, and the states should expand the relevant boards and commissions to include scientists and engineers. In events such as East Palestine, the designated scientists and engineers would handle communicating the facts to those in the impacted communities and beyond.

ACS should play a central role in having regional experts available to the state and federal entities needing such guidance. This is a role in which ACS can make a real, quantifiable difference.

Mitigating disasters is important, as are the lives of the people in the impacted areas. While each incident is different, there is nothing more reassuring to the people in the impacted areas than knowing that they have the best available facts (in real time) and that we’ve got their backs.

David M. Manuta
Waverly, Ohio


Regulation on plastics in packaging

It is time for the federal government to step in and regulate which plastics can be used in product packaging. The failure of the US to recycle more than a tiny fraction (5–6%) of the total plastic waste generated and the resulting degradation of our land and water resources is one reason to do so. A second reason is for the safety of our food, drinking water, and medicine. The finding by Martin Wagner et al. that food packaging contains thousands of chemicals and that, according to C&EN, extracts from most products “activated or inhibited cell receptors that regulate the endocrine and metabolic systems” or interacted with G protein–coupled receptors is just the latest of many studies that implicate plastics as contributors to declining fertility and to cancer (C&EN, March 25, 2024, page 8). A rational approach is to select a limited set of plastics that can be used for packaging and containers, favoring simplicity of formulation for recyclability and being guided by toxicology data to reduce the chance that these plastics harm human, animal, or plant health. Minimum purity requirements should also be set for the chemical components that go into the plastic packaging of food, water, and medicine. It is beyond the ability of individual consumers to control their use of and contact with plastics. The federal government must take action.

Donald Hirsh
Pennington, New Jersey



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