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February 16, 2023
What A Day
The Trainborne Toxic Event

In This Episode

It’s been nearly two weeks since a freight train derailed outside of East Palestine, Ohio, and the controlled burn of toxic chemicals it was carrying. Though officials say the area is now safe, some residents are afraid to return home, amid worrying signs that toxins may be lingering in the surrounding environment.

The CDC says teenage girls in the U.S. are “engulfed” in record-high levels of depression, violence, and trauma. According to a new report, early 3 in 5 said they persistently feel sad or hopeless – the highest rate in a decade.

And in headlines: the gunman who killed 10 people in a racist mass shooting in Buffalo last year was sentenced to life in prison, New York Times contributors and LGBTQ advocates sent an open letter denouncing the paper’s coverage of transgender people, and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she will step down.

Show Notes:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data & Trends Report (2011-2021) – https://tinyurl.com/y3t95ue5
988 – National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – https://988lifeline.org/
NYT Contributors’ Letter – https://nytletter.com/
What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
For a transcript of this episode, please visit crooked.com/whataday

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, February 16th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day, what we’re trying to get our next head shots done by whoever did Rihanna’s baby photos for British Vogue. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Separately, we find ourselves wondering if there is just any way to become Rihanna’s baby. It seems like a pretty good gig. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: We’ll be putting together our resumes, I think you’ll find we’re highly qualified Rihanna, I promise. [music break]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, the gunman responsible for last year’s racist mass shooting in Buffalo was sentenced to life in prison. Plus, another female world leader is stepping down. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: But first, yesterday, hours before a community meeting for residents of East Palestine, Ohio, representatives from the rail operator at the center of the train derailment, Norfolk Southern, said that they would no longer be attending the meeting because they had become, quote, “increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties”. You know, when I heard that, it sounds to me like Norfolk Southern is already hiding from accountability and facing the public. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, definitely. I mean, this is a last minute cancel. Like we all know what that means. Like– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: They could not take the heat of being accountable for what they did. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Look, as residents have talked openly with reporters about their concerns about their drinking water, fears about animals and fish dying and physical symptoms of headaches, nausea and more. This doesn’t seem to be a smart move from Norfolk Southern when the people simply want answers. And it makes sense that the community is confused as they’ve been getting mixed signals from state officials about their safety in the containment area, whether or not they should return to their homes and whether or not they can drink the water. Only yesterday in the span of 12 hours, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine went from telling people that bottled water should remain the rule in the morning to saying that the municipal water from East Palestine is safe to drink in the evening. So there was a flip flop. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I know. If I were there now, I probably would not feel safe, would not feel confident in any of this guidance that they’ve been getting. And– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, to put yourself in those shoes, like if you know you would feel that way, that’s not right that they are going through that. Clearly, something wrong is happening. I mean, it’s been a really rough 13 days that have been ongoing for a while now for the East Palestine community. Can you recap how we got to this point? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Reuters released a very clear timeline that begins on February 3rd when a train carrying hazardous chemicals in some of its 150 freight cars derailed. According to reports, there is also video footage that shows an axle on the train that was on fire 20 miles before the train even reached East Palestine, Ohio. And when the train derailed, a fire and a huge plume of smoke rose over the town, prompting the evacuation of about 1500 residents. On February 5th, crews drained and burned off and, quote, “unstable toxic chemical cargo from five railcars of the train”. And on February 8th, Governor DeWine announced that it was safe for residents to return, though residents pointed out the stench of what smelled like chlorine in the air. On February 13th, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Regional Office said it conducted air quality tests in nearly 300 homes in the evacuation zone and detected no vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride, though there are now reports of other hazardous chemicals on the derailed train. And that brings us back to the testing that the EPA is still conducting and the concerns of the residents. So given this timeline and the evolving updates, it makes complete sense that the local community’s anxiety is high right now. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, definitely. And my question for you now is how have state and federal officials been responding to this crisis and who’s going to be held accountable here? I mean, this is a huge environmental crisis that’s been created. Is anyone stepping up and doing anything to fix it? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: What we do know is that President Biden reportedly reached out to Governor DeWine following the train derailment and told the governor, quote, “anything you need” while offering support. Governor DeWine said during a press conference that he has not called the president back after that conversation and quote, “We will not hesitate to do that if we’re seeing a problem or anything, but I’m not seeing it”. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That is so crazy to me. The president is calling you and being like, clearly there is a crisis in your state. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I want to help. I will do anything I can with the power of the entire United States to help you. And you’re like, nah we’re good. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That is like not a flex at all. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Not a flex. Not even a little bit. But I’m like, what is he not seeing? The people clearly have concerns. Everything– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: –that we’ve described up to this point is something. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’d be so mad if I lived there. And he did that. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Knowing President Biden is trying to help. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: In the meantime, the Ohio EPA is coordinating with the federal EPA officials on testing air and water quality and the ongoing investigation into what caused this train to derail. It’s also important to keep in mind that East Palestine, Ohio, is very close to the Pennsylvania state line. And Governor Josh Shapiro has been engaged with emergency responders in Beaver County to discuss the response and the needs of Pennsylvania residents who’ve been impacted. When it comes to accountability, though, everyone seems to be looking directly at Norfolk Southern Corporation, even though they skipped out on the community meeting yesterday. Thus far, both governors, DeWine and Shapiro, have made it clear that Norfolk Southern is responsible for the cleanup, and EPA officials have said that they may also be liable for costs. In a CNN interview, Governor DeWine went so far as to say, quote, “They’re responsible for a very serious train wreck that occurred with some very toxic material. So we’re going to hold their feet to the fire. We’re going to make sure they pay for everything as we move forward”. And I promise the nation is watching to see if Norfolk Southern will be held accountable for this, as well as if this is going to happen again in other communities. Considering the ongoing labor issues within the freight train industry and the safety issues that come with that reality. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, these are issues that we’ve been talking about on this show that have been ongoing in this country– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –for a long time, and they are all kind of coming to a head in this one instance. You know, hopefully not anything that is repeated, but that remains to be seen. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I want to pivot quickly to another story that has you know been percolating this week. A new CDC report released Monday found that teenage girls in the U.S. bear the brunt of the growing mental health crisis among America’s young people. Just a heads up. We are about to talk about some heavy things regarding self-harm and sexual violence. If that is not for you today, feel free to skip ahead. Nearly three in five teenage girls reported feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021, that is over half of teenage girls and double the rate of boys their age who reported having the same feelings. And nearly one in three teenage girls seriously considered attempting suicide. Those stats, of course, only get worse for teens who identify as LGBTQ+, and they were accompanied by other alarming metrics on violence and sexual assault as well. The study found that one in five teenage girls said that they had experienced sexual violence in 2021, one in five. That is a 20% increase since the CDC first started asking about this in 2017. And I mean, these are kids, children whose brains are still developing and can be very seriously impacted by any kind of trauma, let alone this extremely traumatic thing– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –that could happen. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: This data is horrifying. And I think it’s clear that the kids are not all right. And I appreciate you emphasizing the fact that their brains, their frontal lobes are not developed. And so– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: –the responses to this trauma is something that’s going to imprint on them and impact them their whole lives. But tell us more about this study, Priyanka. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, so these findings come from the CDC’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. They’ve conducted this survey every other year for three decades now. It includes responses from over 17,000 high school students all over the country. But this time, the results are different. These are the highest rates of sadness reported in the past decade, and they reflect the growing mental health crisis for a particularly vulnerable population. Teenage girls. During the atypically emotional briefing where these findings were delivered, the CDC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Debra Houry, said, quote, “As a parent to a teenage girl, I am heartbroken. As a public health leader, I am driven to act”. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I mean, I can’t agree with Dr. Houry’s statement more. Right. We all have teenagers in our life in some form, whether they’re our own or relatives. And it’s just heartbreaking, especially to know that young girls are experiencing this. Like, I hope people can hear this and get an understanding of what teenage girls are going through. But I want to know what’s driving these feelings. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So according to Dr. Houry, there is no single factor that we can point to. You know, there are residual effects from the pandemic combined, you know, with social media and the Internet, school stress, issues in our society, issues that are increasingly prevalent now. Things that were around when we were teenagers, but– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –certainly not to the degree that they are now. This is already on top of an intense period of time um that is being a teenager and just growing up. The fact that this is having an outsized impact on girls also isn’t new information. In 2019, a Pew Research study found that teenage girls were three times more likely than boys their age to experience depression. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I appreciate you naming it what Dr. Houry said about the pandemic, though. Like, can you imagine your 14, 15 year old self in isolation, taking class from your bedroom on a laptop for a year? Like– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: What in the world? We also know the health harms of social media and the recent language coming out, even from the surgeon general about kids under 16 or 17 should not be on these platforms because it’s that harmful. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, 1,000%. I mean, to your point about the pandemic, all of us were affected by that trauma in many different ways. But to be a young person in your formative years where so much– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –of that socialization and going to school is so important for you, that’s probably not something that most people without kids spent a long time thinking about? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But it is really critical and among many other factors having detrimental effects for our teenage girls. I mean, you and I both have been teenage girls ourselves, you know, once upon a time. This of course, really hits home. We have so many thoughts. We could talk about this for hours. But we also thought it might be useful for all of us adults to hear from an actual teenager herself about this and to get a little bit of what she thinks. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Y’all, when I tell you I’m beaming with pride right now like– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You are. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: We got a chance to talk to my niece, Amaya, who is a junior in high school. And we asked her a few questions about this report, starting with if she found any of this surprising. Take a listen. 

 

[clip of Juanita’s niece Amaya] Honestly, I wasn’t too surprised when I read this story because mental health has become a huge discussion lately. People have just been opening up more about it. And the majority of the people opening up are women even on like social media many like advocates for even men’s mental health are women. I also see like in my friends or my peers at school that many boys were raised to just keep their emotions inside, which for many of them it has led to like long term damage to their mental health. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That’s a really insightful observation to have in high school already, and shows like just how early this is starting and how early people are already aware of it. The differences between– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –how emotions are processed by many teenage girls and many teenage boys. I personally was really curious about how often Amaya and her friends were talking about mental health and if she felt like her peers were generally aware about resources they had for dealing with feelings of depression, you know, whether they knew what to do if they experienced those. Her answer actually ended up surprising me. 

 

[clip of Juanita’s niece Amaya] I will say my friends and I do talk about mental health pretty often because I myself struggle with depression and it often affects my work and my social skills. I honestly don’t think that many kids know what to do when they’re feeling this way, and if they do, most times it isn’t due to like the school’s assistance, which I think would be appreciated. But most times it’s due to the assistance of social media. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I took pause on that one. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I was like social media? Oh my gosh. What she’s communicating here is like, clearly the kids need more direction day to day. Clearly, they need it from their schools. Clearly they need it from their families and additional access to resources. And so I just hope people listening to this understand what she’s asking for and how that could be beneficial to teens across the country. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. I mean, it’s so striking to me that this whole study happens inside of high schools, like that’s where it’s disseminated and that’s the same place where so many of these resources should be also shared with these kids. They should be made aware of them from school, like they shouldn’t have to be looking at a social media infographic that anyone– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –could make it with any information. It’s great that people are getting information that way, but that shouldn’t be your primary source. That’s such– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –a failing on the part of schools. I mean, I really could have spent this whole episode interviewing Amaya. She gave us some really insightful answers, and especially to our last question, which was about, you know, what she wished we as adults and teenage boys understood about what it’s like to be a teenage girl right now. 

 

[clip of Juanita’s niece Amaya] I wish boys my age just realized how hard it is being a 16 year old girl in 2023 with the pressure from social media and even the pressure from them to want to be oftentimes something you’re not. That feeling is something that every teenage girl I know has or currently is struggling with. I also wish that adults realized that just because our generation is being so open with discussing their mental health doesn’t mean that we’re faking or that we’re too young to know what we’re talking about. I believe that we know our feelings and ourselves better than anyone, regardless of our age. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Name it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Name it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m with her. That’s a concern of mine too. I feel like. That people might dismiss this as just young people um, but I think all of this is really true. And those were some really, really poignant answers. Uh. Before we wrap up, we want to share, if you or someone you know needs help right now, you can call or text nine, eight, eight to reach someone with the suicide and crisis lifeline. It is free and confidential and available 24/7. We’ll have links to reach them and other resources in our show notes. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: The white supremacist who killed ten Black people and wounded three others at the Topps Friendly Supermarket in Buffalo last year was sentenced to life in prison yesterday. The 19 year old pleaded guilty in November to multiple charges, including a state charge of domestic terrorism fueled by hate. Authorities said the shooter deliberately drove several hours from his hometown to Buffalo, specifically to target Black people. He also livestreamed part of the act and posted a rambling manifesto online touting false racist conspiracy theories. His sentence was handed down after relatives of the victims confronted him in court. And at one point the outpouring of emotion and pain turned physical as one man in the court’s audience rushed at the shooter before he was restrained and taken out of the room. 

 

[clip of emotionally charged person from courtroom in Buffalo]] You don’t know a damn thing about Black people. We’re human. We like our kids to go to good schools. We love our kids. We never go in those neighborhoods to take people out. [sound of commotion and confrontation]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You can really hear the pain in just reiterating their own humanity. And it’s so sad. The Erie County district attorney says that the man will not be charged. Meanwhile, the shooter also faces several federal hate crimes and weapons charges. If found guilty on those counts, he could face the death penalty. The Justice Department has not yet indicated if it will pursue that punishment. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: If you listened to the show Tuesday, you likely heard Tre’vell’s excellent conversation with journalist Katelyn Burns about the anti-trans bias in the New York Times’s coverage of gender affirming care. Yesterday, hundreds of New York Times contributing writers signed an open letter addressed to the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, condemning what they called the Times’s politically charged and often pseudoscientific language surrounding its coverage of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. The letter, which will drop in our show notes, also stresses how the Times’s coverage has been weaponized in legal battles by those seeking to restrict and ban gender affirming care. Additionally, a group of more than 130 LGBTQ advocates and organizations released their own statement Wednesday, also critical of the Times’s coverage. Representatives from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation even hand-delivered hard copies of the letter. The Coalition asked for the Times to meet with transgender community leaders and for the paper to add at least four transgender journalists or editors to their newsroom. And I hope they had a clause in there that’s saying, yes, in addition to covering gender affirming care, they can cover any and every news topic out there, because that’s also important to have uh gender nonconforming people and trans people’s voices in the news. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: 1,000%. I mean, The New York Times, the paper of record, they are like the leader in this industry and all eyes rightfully will be on them to make this right. They clearly got this wrong. And it makes me happy that all these people who have contributed are willing to call them out and say that. But now all eyes are on them. So it’s up to them to make these changes. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Your move. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Truly. Vice President Kamala Harris is in Germany today to attend the annual Munich Security Conference. She’ll be meeting with European leaders along with international defense and intelligence officials, ahead of next Friday’s anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been almost one full year. That is so, so wild. The vice president was at the forum last year, just days before Russia launched its first attacks and warned Ukraine’s president to brace for a full scale confrontation. Separately, President Biden will visit Poland next week, a few days before the anniversary. We don’t know how the president will mark the anniversary itself. The White House has not said whether he plans to visit Ukraine while he is in the area. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Nicola Sturgeon has become the latest female world leader to lean out, as the Scottish first Minister announced yesterday she will formally resign. During her eight years leading the country. Sturgeon was a vocal opponent of Brexit and was instrumental to the Scottish independence movement. She was also a fierce advocate for queer communities, most recently going head to head with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after he blocked Scottish legislation in January that would allow its citizens to self-declare their gender on official documents. Sturgeon, the country’s first female leader, as well as its longest serving first minister, will remain in office until her successor is elected. The process for which will begin in the coming days. While the announcement reportedly came as a surprise to her own party, Sturgeon said the decision had personally been a long time coming, which, while the stakes may be wildly different, anyone who has ever gotten an impulse haircut can certainly understand. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And then everyone in your life is like, what have you done? Why did you get a curtain bang? No, no, no. [laughter] Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can buy you a few hours of eating d’Oeuvres alongside an American icon. At a press conference yesterday, Jane Fonda appeared alongside a 90 year old Austrian building tycoon to say that she had accepted his invitation to the Vienna Opera Ball because he, quote, “offered to pay me quite a bit of money”. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I don’t hate it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Her date, Richard Lugnar, has made a name for himself over the years by offering undisclosed sums of cash to get the world’s most famous women, including Kim Kardashian and Elle Macpherson, to accompany him to the annual opera ball. Fonda, who herself is 85 years old, told reporters that dancing would not be on her itinerary, citing her shoulder, knee and hip replacements, joking, quote, “I’m old and I may fall apart.” Here’s hoping Fonda comes out of this thing in one piece because 80 for Brady two, too Brady too furious is not going to make itself. It needs a quarterback. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Girl. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I think it’s Jane Fonda. I haven’t seen the movie. Who knows? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: But when I tell you I love a publicly legitimate and out sugar daddy, come on. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: You better offer up your coins and shout out to Jane Fonda at 85 being like, I’ll take it. [laughing]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oh, yeah. Why not? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: I don’t hate this at all. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Love this for her. And those are the headlines. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Peace out from your position as a high ranking official and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just open letters where points are made like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

[spoken together] And ball invitations are welcome.

 

Juanita Tolliver: I got to figure out how I would explain this to my husband though– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: [?] Yeah. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: To be like, Hey babe, I have a sugar daddy, but not really. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Might be a tough sell, but we’ll get there once we get the invitations. I don’t know. Everybody make your offers, and we will assess from there. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Bless.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Exactly. [laughter] [music break]

 

Juanita Tolliver: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.