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Hazardous Chemical Spill, Coffee Outreach and Future Cringe: What We’re Reading This Week

Feb. 17, 2023
A look at some news of note.

Whew, we made it another week!

I don’t know about you, but this week had so many ups and downs. There are many reasons why this week has felt like a rollercoaster, but my plan (or at least hope) is to counter that by making French onion soup, curling up with a good book and a nap. Remember, self-care is not selfish, and rest is important for health.

Another thing that is important is staying abreast of safety knowledge. We here at EHS Today strive to provide you with new information, helpful reminders and fresh insight daily, but there is an overabundance of materials to learn.

I wanted to note that the fine folks at the American Society of Safety Professionals recently launched the third edition of their “Safety Professionals Handbook.” First released in 2008, (has it really been that long?!) the handbook is a helpful reference guide for safety professionals across industries as well as students in the classroom. If you have the first edition or don’t have any, maybe it’s time to take a look and see if this handbook could help you in your day-to-day operations.

Without further delay, let’s dive into this week’s news.

 Hazardous Chemical Spill

I have been watching news about the Norfolk Southern train derailment unfold with a mix of terror and frustration. Our offices are based in Cleveland, about 90 minutes away from East Palestine, so it’s not in my backyard but it feels like it’s happening in my neighborhood. My heart aches for those residents, and I am concerned for my friends in family in the rest of the state who might be affected by the hazardous chemicals now in the environment.

I’ve read the reports that the water and air quality is safe. But I’ve also seen the reports of dead animals and heard people’s accounts of having rashes, headaches and feeling sick. I don’t know what I would do if I were in their shoes, but I am concerned about the long-term impact this hazardous spill will have on the environment and its inhabitants.

Before this train derailment, I have never heard of vinyl chloride, hydrogen chloride, phosgene, butyl acrylate and ethyl hexyl acrylate. Nor did I know much about the lock and train mechanisms that led to the derailment in the first place. I am in awe of how much is done safely on a daily basis that we don’t hear about. I am concerned about the dangers I don’t know about on a daily basis, too.

There is much work to be done and many long days, weeks and months ahead for the clean up crews, investigators and residents. Ever the optimist, I am hopeful that there will be lessons learned from this disaster—and something like this never happens again.

There are many examples of great reporting about this developing story. Here is a good explainer for those who haven’t been following as closely as I have.   

Caramel Macchiato with a Side of Social Work

Sometimes, people need somewhere to sit and warm up for a few hours. That can be especially true for people who are unhoused. And that can be extra challenging for the private businesses that may be de facto filling in gaps in the nation’s social safety net.

That’s why, since 2020, Starbucks has partnered with social workers in eight U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The Guardian quoted a company spokesperson who described the program as one way to “support and strengthen the communities around its stores and better equip employees to meet the challenges of their jobs.”

Last year, Starbucks closed 16 stores citing safety concerns, including chronic homeless issues. Starbucks workers receive training on certain social issues such as de-escalation training and some are trained to administer Narcan, which can reverse lethal opioid overdoses. Those training hours were increased last year, suggesting that in addition to serving coffee, these hourly employees are doing some social work. That’s a lot, and this partnership seems like a great way to reduce the burden on employees while also making sure people get access to resources they need.

Read the full story here.

Future Cringe

It’s easy to look at the past and think “Why did people put plastic covers over sofas?” It’s harder to ask “Why did we wear trucker hats in the 2000s?” As a side note, seeing Gen Z bring back trends of my childhood and those that I disliked in my childhood, such as high rise acid wash jeans, is humbling.

So, when I saw this piece from The New York Times, I was already invested. The publication asked people from a variety of walks of life one question: “What are the things we do today that will seem embarrassing or otherwise regrettable to our future selves — the stuff that will make us cringe when we look back on how we lived our lives in the early 2020s?”

There were some answers that predictably spoke to our sartorial styles, screen habits and other tastes. There were others that surprised me (but shouldn’t have) about climate change and our environmental impact. There was one answer that stopped me in my tracks and prompted me to share it with all of you.

It reads, in part: “I would certainly like to think that when people look back at human society in the early 2020s, they will be surprised and embarrassed to think about how even in what we consider such a modern age people who have problems with mental health or alcoholism or substance addictions are still afraid of getting help—fearful because of a social stigma.”

I certainly hope that society will be more open, honest and less judgmental about our struggles. If you’re looking for a modern throwback story that does talk about real-life struggles, albeit in an entertaining rom-com way, I highly recommend Netflix’s “Your Place or Mine,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher.

Read it here.

About the Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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