Ohio train derailment: residents kept away as air monitored for toxic fumes

Officials released and burned chemicals from wreckage of derailed train in East Palestine near Pennsylvania border

It is unclear when evacuated residents might be able to return home to the area where officials released and burned toxic chemicals from the wreckage of a derailed train, Ohio governor Mike DeWine said Tuesday.

Residents near the site in East Palestine, close to the Pennsylvania state line, were ordered to leave because of the risk of death or serious injury from toxic fumes. Flames and black smoke billowed into the sky Monday evening when crews released and burned vinyl chloride from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding.

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The Strange Persistence of the Work Marriage

It started out as a fairly typical office friendship: You ate lunch together and joked around during breaks. Maybe you bonded over a shared affinity for escape rooms (or board games or birding or some other slightly weird hobby). Over time, you became fluent in the nuances of each other’s workplace beefs. By now, you vent to each other so regularly that the routine frustrations of professional life have spawned a carousel of inside jokes that leavens the day-to-day. You chat about your lives outside work too. But a lot of times, you don’t have to talk at all; if you need to be rescued from a conversation with an overbearing co-worker, a pointed glance will do. You aren’t Jim and Pam, because there isn’t anything romantic between you, but you can kind of see why people might suspect there is.

The term for this type of collegial relationship—work wife or work husband—has become a feature of American offices. The meaning can be a bit slippery, but in 2015, the communications researchers M. Chad McBride and Karla Mason Bergen defined a “work spouse” relationship as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect.” Other scholars have argued that the connection actually sits somewhere between friendship and romance. Although articulating exactly what makes work spouses unique can be hard, individuals who have them insist that they are singular, Marilyn Whitman, a professor at the University of Alabama’s business school who studies the phenomenon, told me. But the language people use to describe this bond is even trickier to explain than the nature of the relationship: Why would two people who aren’t married or even interested in dating call each other “husband” and “wife”?

[Read: Corporate buzzwords are how workers pretend to be adults ]

The term made a little more sense in its original form. The phrase office wife seems to have been coined in the second half of the 19th century, when the former U.K. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone used it to describe the oneness of mind and uncalculating commitment shared by a minister and his (male) secretary. In later decades, the expression became a means of referring to secretaries more generally—that is, to typically female assistants who handled their boss’s tedious affairs at work as his wife did at home. At times, it gestured toward the potential for romance, as in Faith Baldwin’s 1929 novel The Office Wife, in which a wife, a husband, and a secretary are entangled in a web of infidelity. But eventually, this trope fell out of favor; secretaries distanced themselves from the role of their boss’s caregiver, and the influential feminist scholar Rosabeth Moss Kanter criticized the gendered divisions of labor and power imbalances that work marriages created.

But work spouses didn’t so much disappear as evolve. By the late 1980s, in step with changing attitudes toward marriage, the dynamic had started to morph into something more egalitarian. As David Owen, a former contributing editor at The Atlantic, described in a 1987 essay , the new office marriage did not have to be a hierarchical and questionably romantic relationship between a boss and a secretary; it could be a platonic bond between a male and a female peer. The appeal, to Owen, lay as much in what the other person didn’t know about you as what they did: The two of you could share secrets about your real partners, but because your work wife didn’t know about your habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink, she wouldn’t nag you about it. It was a cross-sex relationship that benefited from professional boundaries, offering some of the emotional intimacy of marriage without the trouble of sharing a household.

Today, your work spouse doesn’t need to be someone of the opposite gender, though McBride and Bergen found that these relationships still tend to occur with someone of the gender you are attracted to. You don’t have to have a real spouse to have a work spouse, though a lot of work spouses do. The office marriage has shed many of the stereotypes that once defined it, but the term itself has strangely persisted.

The impulse to assign some sort of name to a relationship like this makes sense. Labels such as “sister” and “colleague” give people both inside and outside a bond a framework for understanding it. Less traditional pairs, such as work spouses, “have to work even harder to justify and explain to other people who they are and who they are to each other,” Aimee Miller-Ott, a communication professor at Illinois State University, told me. Familial terms are common labels to choose—they’re universally understood and offer a “handy” set of metaphors, the anthropologist Janet Carsten explains. Usually, however, when people reach for kinship vocabulary to describe nontraditional relationships, they select blood relations, Dwight Read, an emeritus professor of anthropology at UCLA, told me. With the exception of some straight women calling their best friend “wifey,” using husband or wife is virtually unheard of—certainly within cross-sex friendships. None of the researchers I spoke with could think of another example.

[Read: The widespread suspicion of opposite-sex friendships ]

This curious usage might simply be an artifact of the romance-novel “office wife” trope, Whitman suggested. But the marital language also makes some intuitive sense. Work marriages involve a type of compatibility, lastingness, and exclusivity that also tends to characterize real marriages. Of course, a lot of these traits are true of good friendships too. But when people hear the word friend, they don’t necessarily imagine this intensity—the word has been diluted in the age of Facebook, referring to any number of loose acquaintances. This is certainly true at work, where chumminess can raise eyebrows and friendliness itself is kept in check for the sake of professionalism. Against this backdrop, real friendship stands out. Add in the age-old misgivings about close ties between men and women , and the extended proximity that working together necessitates, and it’s unsurprising that people in a professional setting might assume that a tight bond is actually a disguise for the beginnings of a romance. Because of this, some avoid using the term work spouse publicly. For others, Miller-Ott suspects that combining the word work with wife or husband may be an expedient, if counterintuitive, way of addressing such suspicions: Yes, we’re very close. No, we’re not dating. Using a phrase that implies monogamy may help explain the relationship by affirming that it is atypical—that these two people have mutually decided to relax the rules of professionalism with each other but not with anyone else.

Employing the term in this way only sort of works, because although wife and husband reliably connote intimacy and singularity, they also imply sex and romance. Indeed, Carsten, the anthropologist, was somewhat amused that spousal language might be used to defuse rumors that two people are dating. One cannot borrow some implications of a word and leave the rest—and people seem to be aware of this. In Miller-Ott’s research, many of the people she spoke with called each other “husband” and “wife” only when they were alone. Others with close work friendships refused to use the label at all, Whitman and Mandeville found, fearing that their real partner might object.

But for some people, the slightly illicit connotations of the work-marriage terminology may be part of its draw. Perhaps that’s one reason so many colleagues who wouldn’t call each other “husband” or “wife” publicly continue to do so privately: Referring to someone by a title that skirts the boundaries of propriety may be a way to bond with them. But ultimately, work spouse breaks down for the very reason it works: It co-opts the exclusivity of a word intended to describe a very different relationship.

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Ohio train derailment prompts ‘controlled release’ of toxic chemicals

A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed on Friday in East Palestine, Ohio, resulting in a large fire, and to prevent an explosion, crews this week began to expel the chemicals from the train cars in a “controlled release,” reports The Washington Post .

The release was to drain the cars of vinyl chloride, a highly unstable compound that is carcinogenic. If inhaled, it could cause respiratory illness, skin burns, and even death. Firefighters controlled the flames, allowing the chemical to burn off. The release went through Monday, however, evacuated residents have not been permitted to return. “We really don’t have a time frame right now,” said Mayor Trent Conaway .

The Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring the chemicals released both into the ground and the air. There is a risk that vinyl chloride, hydrochloric acid, and phosgene, which is a World War I-era chemical weapon that is also sometimes used as a pesticide, could be released from the burning, the Post continues

Citizens have since become concerned about the potential contamination of the environment. “If a water supply is contaminated, vinyl chloride can enter household air when the water is used for showering, cooking, or laundry,” explains the National Cancer Institute . Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC and is used in many household products. 

“Scientists have been telling us for years that PVC is the most environmentally damaging type of plastic,” explained Emily Jeffers , an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. The EPA also has regulations on vinyl chloride because it’s been “implicated as the causal agent of angiosarcoma and other serious disorders, both carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic.”

Currently, residents of East Palestine are still under evacuation orders.

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Just what has Biden accomplished, anyway?

“Politics,” it’s often been said, “is the art of the possible.” It is, to crib another famous phrase , a constant tension between campaigning in poetry, while governing in prose — and perhaps nowhere more so than in the White House, where a president’s every action (and inaction) is scrutinized for signs of deeper significance and political import.

For President Biden, the dissonance between promise and accomplishment seems particularly stark, with a new Washington Post-ABC poll that indicates a significant majority of the country — more than 60 percent — sees his time in office as having accomplished little to nothing . Compounding that bad news for Biden is a separate report from Monmouth University that shows a fifth straight year of declining faith in the state of the union “from 55 percent in 2018 to 39 percent in the current poll,” suggesting that “fundamental faith in the American system continues to erode, even when taking into account the fact that partisan views shift depending on who occupies the White House,” according to Monmouth Polling Institute director Patrick Murray. 

Those measures of public sentiment, however, seem at odds with the reality of Biden’s tenure in the White House. Despite having a “lot of things to tout,” the Biden administration’s triumphs have “not penetrated the American public” NBC’s Chuck Todd noted recently.

So what has Joe Biden accomplished, anyway?

Isn’t it the economy, stupid? 

When longtime Democratic election strategist James Carville coined his now-infamous aphorism in the early 90s, it was intended to help keep then-candidate Bill Clinton’s campaign team on message in their race against President George H.W. Bush. Since then, Carville’s oft-repeated (and frequently parodied) statement has become political shorthand for why Biden’s list of economic accomplishments has hardly seemed to move the needle in his administration’s favor. Indeed, on the economic front, the Biden White House has notched a number of historic victories, particularly when it comes to adding jobs to the U.S. economy. In his first year in office, employers added 6.6 million jobs, an all-time record for a president’s initial 12 months in office — a trend that’s continued throughout the president’s term, including through this past January, in which the country’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point in more than half a century

In spite of Biden’s robust gains , public sentiment around the administration’s economic achievements has ranged from underwhelming to overt hostility. A suite of recent polls shows Biden’s economic approval well below his general approval score, while more than half disapprove of his handling of the economy. The disparity is likely the result of an “ongoing focus on inflation” rather than the complete — and much more optimistic — economic picture, according to Yahoo’s Ben Werschkul

Acknowledging the challenges of imparting a more holistic sense of Biden’s various economic gains, Treasury Secretary Pete Buttigieg stressed during a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that “it can be difficult to list them in a distilled way.”

Okay, but what about inflation? 

Despite taking a significant polling hit over weakening purchasing power, the Biden administration has indeed addressed the country’s growing inflation — most pointedly with the $750 billion 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law this past August, which featured a host of tax policy modifications, clean energy initiatives, and Medicare pricing reductions . All told, the bill represents “one of the most significant laws in our history,” Biden said during its signing ceremony. As the Post noted in its recent poll, however, “many of the laws [Biden] signed during the first half of his term are just now being implemented.” Put another way: despite the historic significance of the Inflation Reduction Act — it contains the largest investment in green energy and climate change legislation in the country’s history — the average consumer has yet to really feel the full effect of the bill. 

Planes, trains, and automobiles? 

During former President Donald Trump’s administration, the phrase “infrastructure week” became something of a running joke thanks to the many, many unfulfilled promises to roll out a comprehensive plan addressing the nation’s aging bridges, highways, and beyond. Less than one year into his term, Biden signed a $1.2 trillion dollar bipartisan infrastructure package  into law, the effects of which have finally begun to be felt some two years later .

Throughout January and February leading up to his State of the Union address, Biden traveled the country touting the various projects underway, or set to begin, thanks to funding from the infrastructure law. The president’s various appearances were, in part, a conspicuous lead-up to both his annual speech , as well as what’s expected to be the launch of his re-election campaign in the coming weeks. Beyond the tangible impact of repairing the various crumbling tunnels and byways, the White House is betting that by highlighting the Infrastructure bill in particular, they can bolster Biden’s deal-making “success (in) bringing Republicans and independents and Democrats together” as administration Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed recently.

Guns, too?

As a candidate in 2020, Biden campaigned on the promise of sweeping gun control legislation akin to that passed under Bill Clinton in 1994 . As president, however, Biden’s ambitions to curb firearm violence have been trimmed considerably, and by the time he signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June 2022 , it had been stripped of the assault weapons ban, high capacity magazine ban, and universal background checks that he’d discussed on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, the bill — the first major federal firearms legislation since the 90s — was hailed as both a bipartisan victory (14 House Republicans supported it) and a significant step forward for the long-stagnant push for tighter gun laws.

Although the bill “doesn’t do everything I want,” Biden admitted during the signing ceremony, “it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.” Among those actions were increased funding for mental health programs and school security, as well as legislative measures to close the “boyfriend loophole ” that let domestic abusers purchase guns, and expanded background checks for certain types of prospective gun buyers. 

So what has he left undone?

Despite campaign promises in both 2020 and 2022 to codify federal abortion access ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson , Biden has thus far been unable to deliver legislative action to ensure reproductive healthcare stymied, in part, by the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, and the unwillingness from members of his own party to circumvent filibuster rules. 

Biden has also failed to deliver on his effort to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, which he’d prioritized on his first day in office with the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 , arguing during a recent speech that “congressional Republicans have refused to consider my comprehensive plan.” And while legislators are still working on their own possible immigration plan, “my own personal sense after having dealt with this for years, and most recently in the last Congress, is that Republicans want the issue more than they want a solution,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said last month. 

Biden also conspicuously removed his campaign proposal for free community college  from its massive spending bill, admitting in late 2021 that “I don’t know of any major change in American public policy that’s occurred by a single piece of legislation.” But, he stressed at the time, “I’m not going to give up on community colleges as long as I’m president.”

Still, no matter which priorities Biden’s administration has left undone during its time in office so far, the president himself is choosing to focus on his wins. Asked after the midterms whether he planned to change tactics to convince the public that he has, contrary to popular sentiment, accomplished a lot, Biden said he’d change “nothing, because they’re just finding out what we’re doing.”

“The more they know about what we’re doing,” he continued, “the more support there is.”

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