Geschrieben am 1. April 2023 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag April 2023

Thomas Adcock: Corporate Crime – on site report from Ohio

by Thomas Adcock

Copyright © 2023 – Thomas Adcock



On a sunny Wednesday morning in early March, I arrived here to examine the scene of the crime, as it were—an explosive disaster that spread toxic filth all over this small Ohio town on the cold black night of February 3.

The disaster could have and should have been entirely resistible.

Like disasters elsewhere in the country, news of this one in East Palestine blared for a little while in national headlines. Then like nearly all the others, it quickly became a memory for most of us.

But for the people here, and for generations of their families to come, a train wreck on that black February night smolders on in the ashes of loss and sorrow; in the hot air of corporate executives, politicians, and labor leaders blaming one another; in the stilted language of lawsuits; and in the hearts of ordinary people in a damaged town left struggling to find a pathway to the future, near and far.  

Here is the anatomy of a train wreck sure to scar East Palestine for however much time the town has left—

• Eleven liquid tanker units were among thirty-eight cars upended by a derailment along Norfolk Southern train tracks that cut the town in half. The tankers carried some 100,000 gallons (378,541 litres) of hazardous chemicals, the bulk of it being ultra-toxic vinyl chloride, used in plastics manufacturing.

• Two days after the wreck, the steel tanker cars were punctured and their payloads of vinyl chloride drained into trenches—then set on fire, in a reputed effort to avert flying shrapnel and massive implosions if left roiling on their sides.

The result: a river of toxicity and volcanic clouds of noxious smoke. Two million gallons of water (7.6 million litres) were required for dousing the flames.

• When the fire hoses finished snuffing the “controlled burn,” as Norfolk Southern called the operation, water pooled in trenches dug along the rail tracks. Carcinogenic pollutants oozed into soil that had to be scooped up and taken away—to somewhere.

In late March, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an emergency order: Every state in the country with appropriately licensed treatment facilities must accept East Palestine’s poisonous muck.

• To date, some 15,000 tons of contaminated soil (42,475 cubic metres) have been trucked off for licensed disposal at regional sites, with more to come. First to receive a share of the slimy filth was a municipal incinerator in neighboring East Liverpool, Ohio.

• With indoor air stinking up homes, Norfolk Southern dispatched teams of monitors-for-hire to assure East Palestinians that all was well: Parlors and bedrooms and kitchens may be smelly for a while, said monitors who conducted tests at no charge, but feel free to inhale and exhale in your home.

…More on these monitors later in this space.

Everyone in East Palestine knows someone who suffers skin rashes, respiratory ailments, sore throats, nosebleeds, burning eyes, painful coughing, severe nausea, headaches and heartaches. Everyone, children included.

On the night of February 3, seven-year-old Evalyn Albright was awakened by her parents to see and hear through windows at the back of her house a toxic bomb townsfolk here call the “hellfire.” In the days following, she told a New York Times reporter, “I was terrified. I thought our house was going to burn down.”

According to the Times, Evalyn and her mother hastened out of town that night by car, destined for a relative’s home in the adjoining state of Pennsylvania. Evalyn’s father stayed back, to care for the family pets. He suffered nausea and grinding headaches.

Nowadays, said Evalyn, “Everyone is moving away, even my best friend. We don’t know what’s going to happen here.”


Soon after the derailment, half of East Palestine was put under a mandatory five-day evacuation order. As irony would have it, the evacuees included Ben Ratner, his wife, and their four children.

A café owner, Mr. Ratner accepted a walk-on rôle offered by a movie company hiring locals for filming scenes at locations around Ohio; he thought it could be fun. The 2021 movie was “White Noise,” based on author Don DeLillo’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same title. The topic: a disastrous train wreck and its effect on the people of a small town.

In his two non-speaking appearances in the movie, Mr. Ratner was directed to look “forlorn and downtrodden.” He told a CNN Television reporter, “The first half of the movie is almost exactly what’s going on here.”

The crime, as mentioned, did not have to happen.

In a Washington Press conference in late February, Jennifer L. Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board investigating the East Palestine train wreck declared, “It was one hundred percent preventable.”

Clyde Whitaker—an Ohio legislative officer for the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union—agrees. In July of last year, he filed a complaint with the Federal Railroad Administration, citing a diktat from Norfolk Southern higher-ups to rail yard workers: Henceforth, ignore failures of wayside detectors that measure the temperature of rail car parts—such as wheel bearings.

“This meant that the trains were not being inspected as intended, and that the crews were not able to ascertain the integrity of their trains,” Mr. Whitaker told members of the U.S. Senate commerce committee during a hearing last month.

It did not have to happen.

That it did adds yet more to the accomplishments of familiar devils: corporate carelessness, political indifference, and the brutal reality of economics and social class in the United States—the crippling forces we prefer to forget about rather than fix.

There may be one ray of sunshine to the East Palestine story thus far: Initial tests conducted by the EPA and state agencies indicate that hazardous chemicals have not breached the municipal water supply (yet). Judging by the abundance of bottled water, however—seen everywhere around town on a grab-it-yourself basis, some of it delivered by an ex-president—these early test results have failed to inspire trust in local tap water.

Nicole Karn, a chemist at Ohio State University, said reports thus far on water and soil tests are difficult to interpret, even for scientists. In an interview with the environmental magazine Nature, she said further, “There’s a lot of distrust among residents about whether the EPA is being truthful. [Agency officials] have an uphill battle when it comes to regaining trust.”      

To trust or not to trust, that is the question.

On the trusting side—at least so far as the public water supply—is East Palestine’s mayor, Trent Conaway. During a recent television interview, the mayor declared that his constituents should have “no problem” drinking straight from the tap.

“My wife, my two children—we have been drinking the water, bathing with the water,” said Mr. Conaway. “If I had babies, I’d make baby formula with the water.”


East Palestine (pronounced PAL-less-teen) is a post-industrial village of 4,761 on the northeastern edge of Ohio, bordering the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The population is 97 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a mix of working- and middle-class folks. Christian in religious tradition, the town invests political faith in the Republican Party.

It is one among many hundreds of tired-out towns in Middle America, weary from hanging on to what hasn’t yet slipped away. Vulnerable towns, easily erased by catastrophe. 

Until the night of the toxic bomb, East Palestine was somewhat better off than others of its rank. Even now, two months past the bomb, the town is more presentable than most.

Storefronts here are largely free of boarded-over windows; streets are still tidy, if short of shoppers; the homeless stay out of sight. According to current Census measures, unemployment and poverty rates are in the single digits. Median household income is $44,498 (€41,383), with a median value of owner-occupied housing at $89,900 (€83,607).

But demographics are now in flux, especially of the financial category. As Evalyn Albright says, nobody knows for certain what lies ahead in the life, or death, of East Palestine. So long as the worst does not come to pass, much that characterizes the rest of small-town Middle America is still apparent here.

Young people dream of life in a wider world; some dare to leave. Lacking the wherewithal, especially in disquieting times, their parents and other elders stay put. Town boosters preach homilies of chin-up good cheer; here, they plant peppy signs up and down the starkly empty sidewalks of main thoroughfares.

Frustrations and resentments in East Palestine find voice in the rhetoric of Donald Trump, who in the presidential election of 2020 captured a whopping seventy-five percent of the vote here and in surrounding Columbiana County—up from fifty-one percent back in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump himself made a whirlwind visit to East Palestine on February 22, for two purposes:

• To blame his White House successor for the train wreck, mentioning neither mechanical nor political cause.

Respectively, those causes are: overheated wheel bearings connected to sensors that failed to give adequate alarm for timely braking, and more improved safety regulations established under the Obama administration (2009-17) to address exactly such shortcomings that were rolled back during his own administration (2017-2021).

• To donate a few dozen crates of his private label bottled water—the eponymous “Trump Natural Spring Water.”

Consumer note: Trump water was rebuked in a 2007 taste test aired on the network television show “Access Hollywood,” wherein a panel of blind-folded celebrities sampled an array of competing brands. The actor Sylvester Stallone, star of the “Rocky” movie franchise, said of the Trump offering, “I wouldn’t wash my socks in it.”

Coinciding with his swoop through East Palestine, Mr. Trump attended a Republican gathering outside Washington where he issued a cri du cœur received by guffaws in certain quarters of the U.S. while resonating bigly, as he would say, in certain others—including Columbiana County, Ohio.

“I am your warrior,” declared Mr. Trump, once again a Republican candidate for president in next year’s election. “I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

—As I write, we await the first hammer of justice to drop on the self-proclaimed warrior. Namely, the Manhattan district attorney’s formal indictment against Donald J. Trump relating to one of the more squalid of his numerous alleged crimes; crimes we all know he committed, even those of us who choose to ignore them. Stay tuned.


If there are mansions somewhere in East Palestine, I missed them during my stay. Houses here are modest and mostly wood frame. Those situated hard by the Norfolk Southern tracks are in various stages of dilapidation.

Shops and diners in the business streets were shut down for days in early to mid-February. Now mostly reopened, they pull in painfully few dollars. 

In the commercial blocks of North Market Street, exasperation with the aftereffects of the February 3 hellfire was heavy in the voices of people I interviewed. That is, when people would speak with me.

“We’re not allowed to talk to reporters,” said a young woman working alone at a gasoline filling station adjacent to a long stretch of rail track under repair.

“My boss won’t let me talk to the media,” said a middle-aged woman working as a receptionist for a business office a further down the line. “No comment.”

Circumspection is understandable. Men in nice suits from the home office of Norfolk Southern, down in the big city of Atlanta, have lately swanned around East Palestine with attractive assurances that millions of rejuvenating dollars are on the way, some day. Plenty enough cash to make it look as if their mess never happened.

But from bitter experience, small town folks everywhere in post-industrial America know that breezy corporate promises are sometimes gone with the wind.

Still, best not to rile up the suits. So suggested a Jayden Hickman, a pleasant young woman who works at the popular Sprinklz-on-Top bakery café on North Market.

Said Ms. Hickman, “A lot of my fellow residents feel the media are blowing this out proportion…”

Cue the Greek chorus:

Four gentlemen of a certain age—“fresh air inspectors,” my grandfather would call them—occupy what appears to be their regular table at Sprinklz. Their roost is perfect for eavesdropping on my conversation with Ms. Hickman. With his comrades nodding in agreement, one of the old boys dismisses the likes of me and my journalistic brethren thusly: “They’re talking to all the derelicts walking around in the streets claiming they got raspy throats.”

Ms. Hickman has heard such sentiment before.

“Some people are angry, but really, the overwhelming feeling here is uncertainty,” she said. “I live within the evacuation zone. I didn’t want to leave. It’s our whole life.”    

For all others who wish not to leave, or to witness their hometown’s death by degradation, much work lies ahead in the just cause of ensuring that East Palestine carries on.

Facing hard facts and hard challenges is essential:

• The town might fairly be called an environmental cesspool, never mind the rosy picture some authorities project.

• Immediate, impactful action is required by responsible parties.

• Norfolk Southern and government regulators must move past the usual blah-blah-blah to plainly articulate, acknowledge, and accept their rôles in formulating an action plan for restoration. No excuses.

• Homeowners and small businesses stuck with rapidly declining real estate values must be made whole.

• The restoration process must be substantially underway by year’s end, to avoid certain distractions in the hubbub of a national political season that heats up next January. Should Mr. Trump have any say in the matter, and he usually does, the election year of 2024 will be hotter, longer, nastier—more violent and distracting—than any others of the modern era.

Per the cesspool’s effect on the several waterways in and about East Palestine, streams that wash into the Ohio River, a vital commercial resource for the tri-state region:

• The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that on the fiery night of February 3 more than forty-thousand fish were instantly killed by toxins released by the derailment.

The agency concludes that deaths in foul waters mount daily. Of one stream recently tested, the agency stated, “Everything in the creek is dead.”

• Further, the agency estimates forty-three thousand aquatic animals were immediately killed on February 3.

As for air, the sky over East Palestine filled with enormous plumes of smoke during the two-day “controlled burn” period, when flaming vinyl chloride produced a musty-smelling gas known as phosgene—an atmospheric poison weaponized during World War I that causes burning eyes and throats, vomiting, foamy sputum, breathing difficulty, chest pain, and frostbite in its liquid form.

It did not have to happen.

The latest legal action against Norfolk Southern, filed in the northern Ohio federal court, addresses the phosgene effect with the most scathing accusations of all litigation to date. The class action brought by the Florida-based firm Morgan & Morgan claims that the railroad company’s clean-up efforts made the situation in East Palestine more hazardous than the train wreck itself.  

One of the law firm’s name partners, John Morgan, said in a press release: “I’m not sure Norfolk Southern could have come up with a worse plan to address this disaster. Residents exposed to [burning] vinyl chloride may already be undergoing DNA mutations that could linger for years or even decades before manifesting as terrible and deadly cancers.”   

And who, exactly, decided to ignite a “controlled burning”? Through an agency spokesman, the EPA denied giving the greenlight, instead fingering East Palestine Fire Department chief Keith Drabick. Mr. Drabick’s response was—you guessed it—no comment.    

On the matter of public sector accountability, there is reason to doubt Norfolk Southern cares overly much about household conditions—such as indoor air, and the monitoring thereof.

The company assigned squadrons of so-called inspectors from the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH) to run cost-free home tests for possible indoor air contamination. Voilà! Breathe easy, concluded the people from CTEH.

…Oh and by the way, please sign this document where it says you acknowledge our having found zero contamination at your house, said the nice inspectors.  

In examining the bona fides of CTEH, a non-governmental, for-profit corporation based in the Deep South state of Arkansas, consider findings by The Guardian newspaper of London:

“About a quarter century ago, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health was founded by four scientists who had all done consulting work for tobacco companies, or lawyers defending them. …CTEH quickly became a go-to contractor for corporations responsible for industrial disasters. Its bread and butter is train crashes and derailments. The company has been accused repeatedly of downplaying health risks.

“In since-deleted marketing on its website, CTEH once explained how the data it gathers about toxic chemicals can be used later to shield its clients from liability in cases brought by people who say they were harmed: ‘A carrier of chemicals may be subjected to legal claims as a result of a real or imagined release. Should this happen, appropriate meteorological and chemical data, recorded and saved…may be presented as powerful evidence to assist in the litigation or potentially preclude litigation.’ 

“Despite this record, the company has been put in charge of allaying [East Palestine residents’] concerns about health risks and has publicly presented a rosy assessment.

“It was CTEH, not the [federal government’s] Environmental Protection Agency, that designed the testing protocol for indoor air tests.

“And it is CTEH, not the government, that runs the hotline residents are directed to call with concerns about odors, fumes or health problems. Local and federal officials, including the EPA, funnel the

scared and sick to company representatives.”

Environmental destruction begets plunging property values, of course. The plunge came with soil test results reported by the EPA: Levels of carcinogenic dioxins in the soil near the wreck sight were found to be as much as one hundred times higher than the cancer risk threshold recommended by government scientists. 

Among those scientists is Carsten Prasse, an organic chemist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He called the EPA results “concerning.” In an interview with The Guardian, he said of East Palestine, “I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable living there.”

Even more candid was the comment from a man in his mid-60s seemingly in charge at Fuller’s True Value Hardware on the afternoon I stopped in. He was working alone. Hastening to attend to his store’s likewise lone customer, he had no time for a proper interview. Accordingly, he was profanely quick to the point:

“My house ain’t worth shit.”


On February 22, Norfolk Southern’s chief executive officer himself came here in a nice suit to bathe the folks of East Palestine in what my grandfather would call “hogwash.” Before Alan H. Shaw took testy questions from a gathering of townies, he reminded folks of the terribly sweet thing his subordinates did nine days earlier on behalf of the company—on the occasion, no less, of St. Valentine’s Day, the time of year for lovey-dovey sentimentality.

As quoted by CNN-Television News, Mr. Shaw explained, “We had heard that flower sales over Valentine’s Day had been really depressed because of what happened here. And so we went to the flower shop and we [bought] all their flowers and we delivered them to several of the retirement homes in the area.”

People in the audience were not charmed. One attendee jumped up from his seat and jeered at Mr. Shaw, “Your company stinks!”

Jim Stewart, a 65-year-old anxious for retirement after working for nearly a half-century in East Palestine, was more specifically furious with the C.E.O. from the big city.

“Who’s going to buy contaminated land?” he asked Mr. Shaw. “We don’t know if the ground is going to be good enough to grow grass. You burned me. We were going to sell our house.”

With hands pointed downward, Mr. Stewart added, “Our value went phoom!

Asked point-blank if he Norfolk Southern was prepared to buy the Stewart house, Mr. Shaw’s response was decidedly slippery: “We’re going to do what’s right for this community.”

Mr. Stewart was not alone in expecting recompense. Two weeks later in Washington, Mr. Shaw appeared before the U.S. Senate environment and public works committee, which invited him to tell Mr. Stewart and the other folks back in East Palestine precisely how he intended to atone.

He opened his testimony by saying of the train wreck, “I am deeply sorry.”

The mea culpa did not satisfy Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the non-governmental organization Food & Water Watch. In a press release, she said of it:

“After years spent pushing to roll back the very sorts of safety regulations that would have prevented an accident like this [in East Palestine]. Alan Shaw’s apology rings hollow.

“If Norfolk Southern had real concern for the safety of the countless communities through which their trains run, they would be calling for more safety measures for the industry. Instead, they offer voluntary steps that can easily be undone, prioritizing profit margins over people.” 

With Mr. Shaw’s apologia and amorphous pledges complete, the Senate committee began the task of grilling the apologizer. All remarks were duly published, verbatim, in the Congressional Record.  

Among the grillers was Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who asked four separate times if Mr. Shaw would pledge to compensate East Palestine property owners for their losses.

“Will you commit to insuring that these innocent families do not lose their life savings in their homes and small businesses?” asked the senator, adding, “The right thing to do is to say, ‘Yes, we will.’”

To this and Mr. Markey’s three other attempts to wrest a straight answer from a C.E.O., Mr. Shaw was identically non-committal in saying, “Senator, I’m committed to do what’s right.”

“With all due respect,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, “you sound like a politician, Mr. Shaw.”

After which, the hearing was interrupted with a news bulletin relayed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Flash! Another Norfolk Southern derailment had just occurred in Alabama—the company’s third train wreck since East Palestine.

Some cars upended in the Alabama wreck, in rural Calhoun County, contained “residues” of hazardous chemicals, according to a Norfolk Southern spokesman appropriately named Connor Spielmaker. However, “They did not breach,” said Mr. Spielmaker. “There is no leak. There is no risk at all to the public.”

Drat! Again with the sizzled wheel bearings! And again with some Podunk town, this time in Alabama’s Calhoun County.

One out of five people in the county live below the federal poverty line. By contrast, Mr. Shaw’s total annual compensation last year was $3.8 million (€3.52 million), according to his employer’s business records. According to public records, Mr. Shaw’s mansion in Atlanta is worth $4,200,000 (€3.89 million), while his mansion outside Washington in tony Roanoke, Virginia, is of similar value. There are no rail lines anywhere near either of the Shaw mansions.

When attendees at the Washington committee hearing were finished gasping from news of the latest derailment, Senator Whitehouse went on to (partially) enumerate the billions of dollars comprising a foundation for Norfolk Southern’s corporate wealth: stock buybacks in 2022 worth $4 billion (€3.7 billion), as part of a $10 billion (€9.26 billion) program at raising share price, and net profits last year of $3 billion (€2.78 billion). Mr. Shaw confirmed the latter figure.

Unstated in the Congressional Record were the hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” made by Norfolk Southern to several of the very Senate committee members addressed by Mr. Shaw on March 9. Notably, three members received zero dollars from the railroad company—Senators Markey, Sanders, and Whitehouse.

Also unstated was the overall real estate value of East Palestine’s approximately 2,600 residential and business properties as compared to Norfolk Southern’s fabulous corporate wealth. According to Attom, a national property data provider, the average value of an East Palestine property prior to the derailment was $146,000 (€135,203); taken together, the combined valuation would be approximately $380 million (€352 million)—a rather easy price tag for a corporate giant deeply sorry for its sin.

In last year’s filings to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Norfolk Southern reported a record operating income of $4.8 billion (€4.45 billion), with net income of $3.3 billion (€3.06 billion)—up nearly ten percent from the prior reporting period. The company had $456 million of cash on hand (€422 million). 

Finally, Mr. Shaw was asked if he might support a specific bipartisan bill now rapidly proceeding through Congress that would address derailments with tougher safety regulations. Once again, Mr. Shaw demonstrated a talent for evasion in boldly stating what Mr. Spielmaker may have scripted for him: “We are committed to the legislative intent to make rail safer.”


If not a bankable promise of restoration, at least the village of East Palestine received an apology.

So it goes in the American social structure, an enduring curse based heavily on money and heavier yet on skin color. Whereas virtually all-white East Palestine rates a corporate C.E.O. willing to say he is very, very sorry for filthing up the town, the virtually all-black small towns along a heavily polluted stretch of the Mississippi River in the state of Louisiana are utterly overlooked.

Rarely do the Louisiana towns hear so much as a peep of regret from oligarchs whose factories and refineries have, over decades since the 1940s, turned the butt end of a storied waterway into an unholy, sludge of oil and flesh-eating chemicals winding eighty-five miles (136.8 km) northwesterly from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

“Cancer Alley,” as it is aptly known, is suitably bordered by cemeteries.  

Meanwhile along the Ohio River, the giant municipal incinerator in the small city of East Liverpool, population 9,958, is busily burning up toxic soil from twenty-five miles up the line.

Nobody in East Liverpool is thrilled about it, but what can they do? Everybody seems accepting and prepared, so far as drinking water is concerned.

Case in point: Amber Cantwell, a mother of six who runs a pizza parlor off the main business avenue of East Liverpool. She has little to no regard for what corporate or government leaders have to say about environmental issues.

“I’ve been buying bottled water for years because I don’t trust them,” said Ms. Cantwell.

Across the river from East Liverpool lies the town of Chester, West Virginia. With a dwindling population now at 2,173, Chester was victimized in the mid-1970s by a disaster known as Little Blue Run Lake—no longer iridescent blue, having decayed to grey when the dye faded, and never little since it was visible from Outer Space.

Everyone has a direct or family-owned memory of what happened to Chester back then.

A razzle-dazzle corporate promotion worthy of the brassy “Seventy-Six Trombones” signature tune from “The Music Man” conned the burghers of Chester into believing that a proposed man-made lake, to be formed from an exhausted mining pit, would become a sure-pop recreational paradise. Instead, it developed into the world’s largest retention pond for coal ash—a swampy mélange of uranium, arsenic and lead that contaminated ground water and soil; together produced unheard of rates of thyroid cancer, among other illnesses.

Then again, the Little Blue project boosted local employment—for a while. And it did provide a capacious dumping hole for twenty billion tons of coal mine waste—billion with a b. All seemed well until 2007 when the National Academy of Sciences exposed the industry lie that coal ash was as safe as dirt.

To trust or not to trust?

Jared Moody, a local volunteer firefighter and bachelor father of two who works at Connie’s Corner restaurant in Chester, falls on the distrust side.

Of the East Palestine disaster and resultant health hazards that will inevitably jump the river over to Chester, “We have an ‘on guard’ feeling about it,” said Mr. Moody. “But we’ve been numbed to it.”

Like Ms. Cantwell back across the river in East Liverpool, Mr. Moody imbibes strictly in bottled water. “I’ve been using it for years,” he said. “Now I have Wal-Mart deliver it to my house.”

Of prospects for environmental justice for East Liverpool, he said, “I’ll be shocked if anything good happens.”

A cautionary note: It took decades of government litigation against FirstEnergy Corporation, owner of the once strangely blue “lake” in Chester created back in 1975, to force the company into completion of a comprehensive clean-up of its extremely hazardous site. The deadline is the rather distant year of 2031.

I had lunch one afternoon Connie’s Corner with Sean Barron, an author and soulful reporter for The Vindicator newspaper in Youngstown, fifty miles west of Chester on the Ohio side of the river. In the matter of nebulous promissory corporate statements, he is only slightly more patient than Mr. Moody.

Of the situation in East Palestine in particular, “I’m biding my time to see how all this will unfold,” he said. “Will Norfolk Southern go with the usual corporate bullshit or will they be honest? It’s their fault, and it’s their responsibility. They have enough money and power to help.”

Mr. Barron went quiet for a long minute, then repeated an earlier thought, from when we had coffee together back at Sprinklz. On first hearing, it was a deceptively wide-eyed notion, but profoundly damning upon reflection: “I don’t understand why corporations and conscience seem to be contradictory terms.”

U.S. correspondent

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