October 25, 2023
From The Real News Network
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The derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 of this year, and the subsequent “controlled release” and burnoff of toxic vinyl chloride, is one of the most catastrophic and devastating industrial accidents in our country’s history, and a catastrophe of equal or greater proportion could literally happen again tomorrow. Why? Because no serious steps have been taken on the industry or the government side to substantively address the issues that led to the derailment and its toxic fallout. Meanwhile, for the people still living in and around East Palestine, there is no going back to normal… life will go on, but it will never be the same, it will never again be what it was on Feb. 2. We cannot forget about East Palestine, and we cannot give up on the people there, who have been largely abandoned by their government, by Norfolk Southern, and by the media. As part of a new series of Systemic Justice Teach Ins hosted by the Harvard Law School, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez was invited to Harvard on Sept. 23 to participate in an all-day event titled “Storytelling for Justice—East Palestine,” where he conducted a live Working People interview with Chris and Jessica Albright, two residents of East Palestine whose lives have been turned upside down by the derailment. With permission from the organizers, we are sharing the audio of this interview with our audience.

Special thanks to Professor Jon Hanson, Simone Unwalla, Haley Florsheim, Samantha Perri, Jessenia Class, Chris Albright, and Jessica Albright.

Additional links/info below…

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Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive: freemusicarchive.org)

  • Jules Taylor, “Working People” Theme Song

Post-Production: Jules Taylor


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Chris Albright:

My name is Chris Albright, 48 years old, lived from East Palestine, Ohio, where obviously the train derailment happened. This is my wife, Jessica.

Jessica Albright:

Hello, I’m Jessica Albright. I’ve lived in East Palestine for 20 years now.

Maximillian Alvarez:

All right. Well, welcome everyone to another live episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today, brought to you in partnership within In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you.

So I am incredibly honored to be here with all of you all at the Harvard Law School for this inaugural Justice Teach-In. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for having the Albrights here. Thank you for caring about this. It really, really means the world to me, and I imagine all of us. So it’s a real honor to be here, and I’m very, very grateful for the chance to get to talk to Chris and Jessica about the hell that they have been living through since February 3rd of this year.

I want to really give as much time as possible to them to tell their story. So I’m going to be very brief with my opening remarks. People who listen to my show have heard me yell and scream, as you all did earlier this morning, about the railroads, the labor conditions on the rails, the greedy corporate practices that have made catastrophes like the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine ever more likely.

So I won’t run through all that here, but there are just two things that I want to impress upon everyone gathered here today before we get into everything else. The first thing I want to impress upon you is that the derailment of the Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd of this year and the subsequent “controlled release” and burn-off of toxic vinyl chloride is one of the most catastrophic and devastating industrial accidents in our country’s history, and a catastrophe of equal or greater proportion could literally happen again tomorrow.

Second, for the people still living in and around East Palestine, there is no going back to normal. Life will go on, of course, but it will never be the same. It will never again be what it was on February 2nd, 2023.

As Kayla Miller, a resident, mother, and farmer in East Palestine told me on a live stream fundraiser that I hosted for the residents in and around East Palestine on The Real News, “I have fought for 13 years to get the life that I have now. My life was pretty good, and I feel like that night, in an instant, it got ripped away. The life that I wanted for my kids could very well be gone because we may have to leave. My kids have been sick since this happened, on and off, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, respiratory. It’s ongoing and it’s exhausting.”

Now the one thing I’ll say about how labor conditions and business practices on the railroads directly contributed to the catastrophe in East Palestine is that the same practices that railroad workers were fighting with the rail carriers over in their high-stakes contract negotiations last year, which came to a head when Joe Biden and both parties in Congress conspired to crush a potential rail strike and force a subpar contract down rail workers’ throats across the 12 craft unions representing over 100,000 rail workers on the nation’s freight rail system.

All of these business practices continue today. I have interviewed railroad workers more than I can count over the past year and a half. I’ve spoken with conductors, with engineers, with dispatchers, with maintenance of way folks who fix the tracks, with signalmen, people all across the rails. Every time I spoke to a new railroad worker, they would tell me some version of this. What you need to understand is that this goes back a long time. This didn’t just come from nowhere. These practices have been going on for years. We have been trying to raise these issues with the companies and we have been ignored. We can’t speak out publicly about it, lest we get fired.

To just put a fine point on that, I want to read a quick passage from an op-ed that we published by the pseudonymous Mike L., a veteran carman who works in Ohio, who wrote for The Real News Network, a really important op-ed looking at the East Palestine disaster from the perspective of a railroad carman. These are the guys who inspect those rail cars. These are the guys who normally pick up on faulty bearings and axles and so on and so forth in order to maintain the health and safety of this vital component of our supply chain.

What Mike L. wrote for us at The Real News that I wanted to read here says, “What is perhaps most devastating about the East Palestine disaster is the fact that it was avoidable. Norfolk Southern has spent the last five years deferring maintenance, furloughing employees, rushing inspections, cutting corners on repairs, and threatening and retaliating against employees who didn’t comply with any of the directives put in place to accomplish their ultimate goal of an operating ratio below 60%.”

“Those of us who work in the rail industry knew it was only a matter of time before a disaster like this happened. Unfortunately, we were ignored, and the people of East Palestine are the ones paying for it.”

“I’m a carman who has worked at Norfolk Southern for nearly 20 years. During that time, I’ve had a front-row seat to the complete and utter degradation of this industry. When I was hired in the early 2000s, this company was a decent company to work for. Safety was the number one priority for Norfolk Southern, so much so that the company won the E.H. Harriman Award for safest class I railroad from 1992 until the award was discontinued in 2012.”

“In those days, we were paid well and had good benefits, and most of us actually enjoyed our jobs. There were times when we even looked forward to going to work. That’s not something you will hear anyone say now.”

“Approximately 40% of mechanical employees at Norfolk Southern have been cut in the last five years or so. Our lower level management has even said the plan for staffing on every shift is ‘bare minimum minus one’, which doesn’t leave any room for error when things don’t go as planned.”

“As carmen, it’s our job to inspect and repair rail cars. But these days, we’re forced to inspect and repair more and more rail cars at an ever-increasing pace with less manpower than ever before. We were trained to do this job right, but now we are threatened with discipline and/or disciplined outright for doing it how we were trained.”

So these are the ongoing conditions on the railroads that when I said in the beginning that a catastrophe like East Palestine could happen again tomorrow, because this stuff has not changed at all. But that’s what I want to say about the railroad workers’ side.

You can go and listen to the countless interviews I’ve done with railroad workers about the crisis on the freight railroads, about East Palestine, and more, but for now I want to turn to the Albrights while we have them here and really put the focus on them and what has happened to them and their community in the wake of this catastrophe that was caused by unchecked corporate greed and negligence.

So, Chris, Jessica, I really, again, want to thank you all for being here, for sharing your story. I think we all read the incredibly powerful profile on you all in The New York Times, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to go read it. Right now we will link to it in the show notes.

But for anyone who hasn’t read that profile, I was wondering if you all could just start by introducing yourselves, telling us more about who you are. I think it’s important to talk a little bit about what life was like for you all before the derailment, because we don’t want to define you by this horrible thing that happened to you. So tell us a little bit about yourselves and your life and roots in East Palestine.

Chris Albright:

My name, again, is Chris Albright from East Palestine. I am a gas pipeline worker. I’ve been doing that now for not too, too long, about four years. Before that, I was a furniture salesman for over 20 years. That was my life. I did that there. Switched jobs into a very potentially dangerous job line of a gas pipeline.

We carry a lot of the responsibilities in a way as far as with the gas companies … Or with the railroad companies as far as the danger that’s involved with our job. One of the differences is we’ve gone over 13 years in my company without ever having an accident. We push safety constantly. Constantly. We have a great record with that.

I actually did enjoy my job before this happened. I had been off work now since April 13th. As far as home life and everything before the train derailment, we were a pretty boring middle-of-the-country family. We both work. We run the daughters to practices, softball practices, hockey practices, make dinner, shower, go to bed, and do it again the next day. Jess?

Jessica Albright:

So, yeah, I’ve lived in East Palestine for 20 years. I work with students with special needs for my day job. That’s my full-time job. Then in the evening, I’m an office manager at a gym. My two older daughters are competitive gymnasts. It’s a very expensive sport. The youngest is into hockey, so another expensive sport. So I work about 60 hours a week. Chris would make dinner, have it ready whenever I got home at night. Like he said, we’re running kids to sports and activities and games. All that fun stuff is pretty much the average family does.

Maximillian Alvarez:

What’s the sport of choice in this family? For mine, it was basketball.

Chris Albright:

Hockey.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Hockey?

Jessica Albright:

Well, for him.

Chris Albright:

Hockey.

Jessica Albright:

For him. He’s a hockey guy.

Chris Albright:

Yes, I am.

Jessica Albright:

Like I said, my older two are both competitive gymnasts, and then they both cheered as well. Then our youngest plays hockey and softball as well.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Do you cover all of that yourself?

Jessica Albright:

[inaudible 00:11:27].

Maximillian Alvarez:

That’s a lot of driving.

Jessica Albright:

It is.

Maximillian Alvarez:

[inaudible 00:11:29].

Chris Albright:

Oh, [inaudible 00:11:29], yes.

Jessica Albright:

Yup.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, so tell me about the night of the derailment, just through your eyes. Give us a play by play, how close to this crash site? Where are you? What do you remember from that night and how things unfolded?

Chris Albright:

Well, that night, our middle daughter is a cheerleader for the local high school and they had a basketball game that night. So they get home, she got home from the game and everything. We’re sitting around the house and started hearing some sirens and everything. Didn’t really know what was going on. Our house is brick, and it’s very quiet. So we had no …

Chris Albright:

What was going on. Our house is brick and it’s very quiet, so we had no idea what was going on. She went to let the dogs out and noticed that there’s a huge fire. We live less than half a mile away, I’d shown Max some pictures of how close we are. Obviously, I can show anybody who’d like to see them at any point today.

She went outside to let the dog out and noticed there’s a big fire right there and then we started getting reports of a train accident. One of our first thoughts was, hopefully this is not one of the kids leaving the basketball game who had an accident with the train. That was one of our biggest concerns. Once we found out that it was just a train derailment, just a train derailment.

Jessica Albright:

That’s what we thought.

Chris Albright:

Yeah.

Jessica Albright:

Train derailments happen all the time.

Chris Albright:

Not a big deal. Didn’t really think too much of it, just kind of looking at it, keep an eye. Kind of need to see there’s a big fire right there. Before too long, we started getting reports on social media they’re going to evacuate us, and sure enough, they did. We had a cop come to the door, saying that anybody within a one mile radius, they can’t force you to go, but they’re asking everybody to please evacuate.

Jessica Albright:

At the time, when the police officer came to the door, he said there were concerns of explosions. They already had a couple of small explosions. Their concern was a larger explosion. Because when the train derailed, it derailed into, basically, the backyard of our local gas station, so there were tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline in tanks hundreds of feet from these blazing infernos.

Their concern at the time was, like I said, explosions. Potential explosions happening, because, maybe I’m putting cart before horse here, but with the rail regulations currently in effect, our local police department or fire department, they don’t know what’s coming through our town on any given day at any given time. So we didn’t know that those were toxic chemicals on fire right then.

Chris Albright:

After the cops came and evacuated, I had told her that I’m going to stick around with the dogs. Because it’s just hard to pick up, especially when you have dogs and pets-

Jessica Albright:

It’s like 10:30 at night.

Chris Albright:

Yeah, and just go somewhere. Go over to a family’s house, or anything, it’s very hard to do. So I told her I was going to stay home with the dogs. If it gets bad, I’ll get out. That was pretty much it for that night. The next day, I woke up and there’s still billowing smoke and everything. I thought, this isn’t too good.

Sunday, I woke up and there was blue skies. I’m like, all right, we’re on the clear now, we’re going to be okay. Then, about 10:00, 11:00 in the morning, I get another knock at the door and it’s the Sheriff’s Department that says, “Get out. If it gets bad, we are not coming back for you.”

Jessica Albright:

Again, this is when we still had not heard anything about what was burning. There was no word of vinyl chloride or any other toxic chemicals. We were monitoring social media and local news stations and there was no concern at that time. It smelled, but it was just, you know…

Chris Albright:

I didn’t smell anything.

Jessica Albright:

He didn’t smell anything. He was nose blind to it as the weekend went on.

Chris Albright:

She got back up on Sunday to help with the dogs and everything, and she was like, “You don’t smell that?” Smell what?

Jessica Albright:

I had a headache within five minutes of being in the house. Smelled awful.

Chris Albright:

So we pick up and we left. We went over to her sister’s house. That was on a Sunday. By Wednesday, we got the okay to go back home. Shouldn’t have.

Maximillian Alvarez:

So do you remember seeing the quote-unquote “controlled burn?”

Chris Albright:

We didn’t see. I remember, actually, that night, it was on a Monday and I had taken my daughter to hockey practice, which is in Chippewa, a town. Chippewa isn’t too far from where we are. When I was going back over to her sister’s house and I had my daughter in the car and everything, I was driving toward the direction of East Palestine. It was just black, huge smoke. Just, the whole sky was just ominous. It was so black and so dark and it was just… It was amazing.

Then, obviously, we started seeing things on social media about it. I didn’t see it or anything. Like I said, we were away from it at the time.

Jessica Albright:

They initially were going to detonate at 3:30, which had been pushed back. It ended up happening a bit later. But at 3:30 is the time that I get off work. So at 3:30 at work, I had a full and complete meltdown. You know.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, we now know, based on records that have been released, that the local fire marshal was given 13 minutes by Norfolk Southern to make the decision of whether or not to approve Norfolk Southern’s plan to puncture not one but five cars containing toxic vinyl chloride, a lot of it, empty it into a trench and set it on fire. Because they were worried that there were signs of polymerization happening within those cars, which, according to the company, would have created the conditions for a potential explosion to happen, which would cause the same effect, but also would involve rail cars and shrapnel there from, spreading across the area.

This is the justification Norfolk Southern has given for the quote-unquote “controlled burn.” But what we were learning from reports about those crucial 13 minutes is that the company that made the vinyl chloride said that they saw no signs of polymerization happening and disagreed with Norfolk Southern’s decision. But again, the fire marshal claims that he was, quote… Well, actually, I don’t want to quote because I don’t remember the exact verb that he uses. But he was essentially, according to him, pressured by the company to say yes to this for fear that it could cause worse damage.

But we all saw the massive black death plume that resulted. I’ve heard firsthand, not just from Jessica and Chris, but from many of their neighbors the fallout of that. The contaminated waterways, the contaminated air and soil. There’s a lot that we can get into and I would encourage folks to check out the previous episodes that we’ve done with other residents of East Palestine and other railroad workers about that fallout.

But again, since we have limited time here, I wanted to ask y’all if you could then talk about what came next because it feels like there was an initial melee in the first few weeks and then just sort of slow, purgatorial nightmare that you’ve been living in since. Tell us about what has happened since that fateful day on February 3rd for y’all.

Chris Albright:

After that day, like I said, we were gone and we were able to go back to our house. They said it was safe that following Wednesday. We were excited to go back. I mean, again, we were staying at her sister’s house, which is family, but it’s not our house. You don’t feel very comfortable. We were excited to go back home.

Jessica Albright:

Hadn’t a reason at the time to question why they would say. I mean, BPA was on it. Why wouldn’t we trust what the BPA has to say?

Chris Albright:

Within a couple days, a couple weeks maybe, I don’t know, after returning home, I, more than anybody I think at the time, started developing symptoms. I started getting headaches every day and I’m not the type of person to get a headache. If I get a headache once or twice, twice a year is a bad year for me. I don’t get headaches. And I was. Any time I would be home, I’d end up getting a headache. When I went to work, I was fine. We ended up going to Cleveland for a hockey tournament for our daughter, I was fine. It was great. Got back home, headaches.

Then, on top of that, I started developing random vomiting. I’d be driving to work and throw up. I’d get in the shower and throw up. And it was not brought on by anything, it was very weird. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

Then, I started getting shortness of breath. I couldn’t walk up those steps without having to take a break. I had no breath, I couldn’t do anything. My job was a very physical job, and I’m not an obese person. I’ve always been active. I do a lot of sports. I stay active. I do whatever I can. And I couldn’t do any of it.

So I went to my doctor and he started doing some tests, ordered up x-rays, echocardiogram, different things like that, to find out that I had developed congestive heart failure. After doing more tests, going in for a heart cath and everything else, they determined that my heart has been weakened to a very bad state. My chest refraction rate right now is at 16%. The analogy that the doctor gave me was, if my heart was like a 10-valve engine in a car, I’m working off a valve. That’s the reality of my life right now.

For months, I had to wear an external defibrillator that would make sure if my heart stopped, it would shock it and get it… Well, I don’t want to say stopped. Nothing will restart a stopped heart. But if it got out of rhythm, would shock it back into rhythm. They’ve started putting me on more medications now, on different medications, upping doses, to hopefully have me so that I’m on the right track to recovery and I don’t have to wear that defibrillator anymore. So that there’s a good thing.

Like I said, I have not been back to work since April 13th. The job I had, like I said, as a gas pipeliner, I enjoy it. I made decent money. Wasn’t going to get rich from it, but I made decent money, decent benefits. I’m a foreman, a couple nice perks from it and everything. It’s also hard for me because I am a worker. That’s my whole life, I almost always had two jobs. That’s what I do, I like to work. I’m not now and I don’t like it.

That would be my side of it.

Jessica Albright:

As far as the rest of the family, I had experienced a lot of sore throats pretty much every day when I would come home from work because I would be gone, like I said, 12 hours a day because I worked two jobs. So I wasn’t home as much as everybody else. But as soon as I would get home, instant sore throat. Periodic headaches and things like that. The youngest, one morning, woke up with a rash on her torso area. My middle, rewinding a little bit. When he was experiencing those health issues initially, that was about the time that we heard that Norfolk was reimbursing for hotels and things like that, so we decided at that time to go ahead and take advantage of that.

Jessica Albright:

… decided at that time to go ahead and take advantage of that. So we did live in a hotel for four months. Not fun, yeah, four people and two dogs in a hotel room. I would go home periodically to clean the house, mow the grass, do all those things. So I was home probably two or three days during the week, and then both days, every weekend to try to take care of the house, literally mopping the walls with hospital grade disinfectant, tearing out carpeting from the upstairs, throwing away the curtains, whatever I could do that… Sorry.

Chris Albright:

As you guys can tell, it’s definitely been an emotional time for us.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Okay. Like I said earlier, this has not stopped. This is what life has been like since February 3rd, not just for Chris and Jessica, but for their neighbors, right? I’ve spoken to other residents, Ashley McCollum, Kayla Miller, Christina [inaudible 00:25:22], Stella Gamble. They’ve described similar things to me. They’ve also described worse things, and even that if they lived outside of that one mile kind of radius from the crash site, that they got no help from Norfolk Southern, and that all the while they’re being told it’s safe. And this is the true Orwellian horror show of all of this. Imagine going through this. Imagine feeling it in your own body, worrying about your own children. What other folks have described to me is like, “I don’t know if my kids are playing in grass that’s going to give them cancer. I don’t know if my kids will be able to have their own kids in 20 years.”

And yet you’re being told by your own government and by the company that did this to you, that everything is fine, that it’s all in your head, and that in fact, you’re being a greedy piece of shit for demanding more reimbursements for the costs that you’ve incurred for this catastrophe, right? This is the nightmare that people in and around East Palestine have been living since February 3rd, while the rest of our lives have continued. So if there’s anything you take away from this, it’s that, that this is their new reality. And while the rest of the country has forgotten and we absolutely cannot, and I wanted, if you all are feeling up to it, I wanted to ask about that side of in the… What are we? It was February, nine months since then, what have you been hearing? What help have you been getting or not getting from the government, the Norfolk Southern and beyond?

Jessica Albright:

Nothing from the government.

Chris Albright:

Nothing from Norfolk, other than… The only thing Norfolk did was they did pay for the hotel. They paid for meals while we were away. That’s nice and everything, but it’s nothing. It’s really nothing. At this point right now, we still don’t know what’s going on, like he said, with our kids and everything like that, what’s going to happen? We have no idea. I mean, with my heart condition and everything like that right now, every doctor I’ve said has said that they cannot specifically say it’s because of the trained environment that this is going on. But they also cannot say that it isn’t from it. They all seem to think that it definitely exasperated anything regardless. And that’s like an immediate thing right now. But we have kids and as you guys later on in life become parents or anything like that, you’re going to find out your life means shit compared to your kids.

And we don’t know. And that’s a very scary thing. As far as helping and everything like that, nothing, nothing. We have had no testing at her house. We got, I don’t want to say we, she kind of got into an argument the one time whenever she went to the assistant center to have them pay for a dumpster so we can get rid of contaminated carpet. All that stuff, when she was at the house doing that, everything went down in the basement for the time being until we got back home and everything. And then we got a dumpster. They almost refused to pay for it.

Jessica Albright:

Well, I was told twice before that that it would be covered. And then there was one gentleman who, and I use that term loosely, who was not a kind human who, I’m an emotional person as you can tell, and I’m very non-confrontational. So when I’m confronted with anything, I tend to shut down and I cry. And so that’s pretty much what happened that day.

Chris Albright:

That’s why she wins all the arguments.

Jessica Albright:

But I had been told previous to that Norfolk would reimburse for a dumpster, just bring in the receipt as part of the cleanup process. They weren’t getting into any of the reimbursement for replacing of any items because that was a whole future claim. And I said, “That’s fine. I’m not asking for any of that right now.” This guy that I dealt with on that particular day, he said, “Why would we pay for that? You have no proof that it was the derailment that ruined anything in your home.” Okay. My daughter’s nosebleeds every time she goes in the house.

Chris Albright:

Getting help from Norfolk, besides the hotel and everything is like pulling teeth. They don’t want to admit accountability and they don’t want to help. We have been left pretty much throwing devices to find anything we can do. I mean, like she said, we disposed of so many different things, carpet, clothes, jackets, anything that could have permeated into.

Jessica Albright:

Well, and our house is brick, so it’s probably just permeated in that substance as well.

Chris Albright:

But the loss that we’ve taken on so many different things is what do you do?

Maximillian Alvarez:

It’s like you guys saw in the earlier session, me all hopped up on caffeine, yelling and screaming and spitting. Now you know why. You cannot listen to this without being righteously furious at the criminals who have done this, which is why we need all of you to help us fight them. Because as Stella Gamble said to me, she’s like, “This is a poor community. This is a working class community. How are we going to take on a company that brought in $3.2 billion in revenue last year alone?”

Jessica Albright:

Our town’s not worth $3.2 billion. I mean-

Maximillian Alvarez:

So this is David versus Goliath, right? And Goliath is shitting on all of us. This is happening all over the country. There is a CSX terminal in Baltimore, and the entire surrounding area has been declared a sacrifice zone. I have people from that area sending me pictures, much like the pictures that Chris and Jessica showed me of the stuff that accumulates on their walls in one day. They send me pictures of what they’re coughing up. No one’s helping. No one, right? There are explosions that happen at that terminal and then the city’s just like, “Oh, that’s business, right? Business rules society. The people who live here are an afterthought.”

And that is criminal, and that needs to stop. And it’s clear based on what we’re hearing, that we’re not going to get the movement that we need from the government side. And sure as hell not going to get it from the corporate side. So who’s going to help? Me, Topher, others in the media are doing our best to try to just make sure people don’t forget about this, that it doesn’t go down the memory hole, but it’s like trying to hold water in your hands.

And we need all of you to help us with that. And so I want us to not just sit and extract the pain from Chris, Jessica, their neighbors and think about what a terrible tragedy this is, and then go on with our lives. I want us to end this conversation by focusing on where we are now and what we can all do to help. So I’m so grateful to both of you for talking through this, even though obviously it’s incredibly painful. And why wouldn’t it be? Your life has been upended and you did not deserve this. None of you all deserve this, and we are all in solidarity with you all and we want to help. So with the final minutes that we have together, I wanted to ask if you could just tell folks here, everyone listening, like what is life in East Palestine right now?

Where do things stand right now? I mean, what was it yesterday? Biden announced a FEMA coordinator to look into whether or not to declare this an emergency nine months after it happened. So then that report’s going to come out like two, three years in advance and say like, “Yeah, it’s an emergency.” But yeah, no shit. People are getting sick and dying and sorry. So what is life for you all and your neighbors in East Palestine like right now, and what can people out there listening to this do to help you all?

Chris Albright:

Well, as far as life in East Palestine right now, before this happened, the town was a model town. It was a very closely knitted, people look after their neighbors. You could walk down the streets, say hi to everybody. It was great. It was a nice little small town, very enjoyable. My sister moved down there from Connecticut. My mom, who doesn’t live that far away, was going to move out there. It’s a nice town. It’s quaint. We have a couple little businesses and shops, but it was pretty neat. It’s not quite like that now. One of the main streets that runs through a town is Market Street, and there’s the East side and West side. We’re on East side. The West side is nice and pretty.

Jessica Albright:

They’re getting a $25 million aquatic center at the park.

Chris Albright:

Which we have a pool there, which is a very nice pool.

Maximillian Alvarez:

This is part of Norfolk Southern’s clean-up the community thing.

Jessica Albright:

Yeah, it’s a $25 million aquatic center.

Chris Albright:

Which the pool, we have people from so many other communities come to because it’s a nice pool. It really is. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s getting $25 million.

Jessica Albright:

Which I foresee, like we had mentioned before, is Palestine is not an economically well off town. It’s why a lot of us choose to live there. Cost of living is very low. I could stay home and take care of my kids, raise my kids on a single income. So a $25 million pool is probably going to have a very expensive season pass, which most East Palestine residents probably can’t afford. So let’s bring in people from all over the place while East Palestine residents continue to suffer. But everybody from a half an hour away will enjoy our new waterpark.

Chris Albright:

And as far again as on the East and West side of it and everything, like you said, we’re on the East side, the people on the West side of town and mind, it’s a small… And I said East side, West side, it’s a small town. I can walk-

Chris Albright:

… I said, east side, west side, it’s a small town. I can walk the circumference of the town in probably a half hour. It’s not a very big town.

But the people on the west side don’t see the issues that people on east side are having. We have all the trucks running through our side of the town. All the cleanup and… Everything is on our side of the town. The people on the west side think… They look at what they see and everything’s fine, everything’s great, “What are you guys bitching about?”

And there’s us who we’re doing, “Guys, look, this isn’t fixed. This is still bad. We are not okay yet.”

We are very angry. We are very frustrated. We try to watch sometimes how we get our message out there a lot of times, we don’t want to come off some crazy person who just wants to bang a couple pots together and get attention. We’re trying to do this in the right way, which is one of the reasons why we accepted to come to Harvard Law School. But the town is not the same, it’s not. It’s not as neighborly. Again, there’s a lot of accusations from different sides of what’s going on.

Jessica Albright:

There’s extremes on both ends.

Chris Albright:

Yes.

Jessica Albright:

It’s the people that think… And it’s not even necessarily just an east versus west because there are people on the west side of town that were affected very heavily. There are people on the east side of town who, “I haven’t been affected, I’m not sick. You guys must be crazy.”

There’s a family that lives a block in front of us, my daughter’s friend’s mom who no ill effects. So she’s kind of on the defensive about things. People have said, “You need to just suck it up and move on.” There’s been feuds even within families.

Chris Albright:

Yeah, some of the families in our town… Because it is such a small town, there are some bigger families. You got relatives all through everything. And again, like she said, it’s almost like a civil war. But some people think it’s okay, some people don’t. It depends on what your experience I guess has been with it. And ours hasn’t been good, and it still needs to be addressed. It still needs to be out there, still needs to be brought to people’s attention and I’m still thankful for everybody here, for Max, for everything, for the New York Times putting our story out there, everything has just led to this, and it’s keeping the thoughts of East Palestine in there is amazing and it’s one of the goals we want to do.

Moving forward, that’s a tough one. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. I don’t know how things are going to end up. I don’t know where to go for help. I don’t know what to do for… I don’t know what to do for anything.

We had talked to somebody the one time who was saying that whenever we were staying in a hotel… My savings, because even though they were paying for the hotel, we still had to pay for everything at the house. We still had to pay for the car. All of our bills were still there. And I went through my savings, it’s gone. I got $21 left in my savings account.

One of the guys we talked to, he said, he’s like, “Well, nobody ever plans for a train derailment to happen. Who plans for that? You can plan for college, you can plan for vacation. You don’t plan for a train derailment.”

And it’s been very tough on that end. Again, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know where things are going to go. There are some organizations that are out there trying to help. I just got contacted actually yesterday by a gentleman who was with an organization called helpeastpalestine.org. They’re actually donating a medical grade air purifier to us that we’re going to get. So there are people out there that are looking for the help and to do things like that, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. It is a very scary time right now, it really is, because we just don’t know. I mean-

Jessica Albright:

Biggest question we get asked is, “Why don’t you just move?” It’s a very obvious question. “Why don’t you just get the heck out of Dodge?” And to put it as briefly as I can, I’ve lived in my house for 18 years and we do rent, but my landlord has not raised my rent in the 18 years that I’ve lived there.

Chris Albright:

They did one time 25 bucks.

Jessica Albright:

Right. But because of things, the Shell cracker plant and things that kind of went up in our area, rental costs are more than double what I pay.

Chris Albright:

I guarantee if we got out of that house, the landlords would easily get-

Jessica Albright:

Twice.

Chris Albright:

… if not double, triple what they’re charging us.

Jessica Albright:

They would get double. And we have animals and no rental’s going to take our whole family and my dogs and my cat.

Chris Albright:

Plus it’s just not that easy just to pick up and go.

Jessica Albright:

My daughter’s in her senior year, she’s been in that district since kindergarten.

Chris Albright:

To just get up and go is not a very feasible thing. Financially, again, right now I’m not working. That doesn’t help out at all. Luckily I’m getting unemployment right now, which is nothing compared to what I was making when I was working. It helps, but it doesn’t do a whole lot. So again, just picking up and moving is not an easy option.

Maximillian Alvarez:

And Chris, Jessica, just in the final minute, we’ve got to kind of round out, even if we ourselves don’t know what the solution is, and we are asking people for help and their ideas, I just wanted to ask if you had any final words to anyone here or anyone listening to this afterwards that you want to share with the rest of the country about yourselves in East Palestine?

Jessica Albright:

The attention has not fully gone away from us with the President now setting forth this… He’s launching an investigation, which all the information’s going to come from the EPA who’s already telling us that things are fine, but there’s at least still a headline for East Palestine. So while we are still relevant, continue to push. There are representatives and senators from all over the country who are fighting, just continue to encourage them to do that.

Chris Albright:

All you law students and everything, like Professor Hanson said, keep in mind I think why a lot of you get into law, why you guys want to study this, why you guys want to do this. I’m sure a lot of you people aren’t going out there saying that you want to help fatten [inaudible 00:43:33] others pockets at all. Granted, I guarantee you that’s for a lot of these money’s going to be.

Jessica Albright:

You’d make more money.

Chris Albright:

But there’s a lot of people out there who get affected and like I just said a minute ago, we have no idea where to go to help, or what road to take, what angle. We don’t know how anything is going to turn up. You guys could be the difference to that. You guys can change it. You guys could be the ones that people like us could look to and find an organization, find anything like that there to direct us. So keep that in mind. There are people that are affected. We’re examples.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Let’s give it up for Chris and Jessica Albright everyone.

Speaker 1:

(Singing).

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Source: Therealnews.com