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Eastern Ohio Residents Fear For Their Health Following Toxic Train Derailment in East Palestine

(Image from: Gene J Puskar/AP/Shutterstock)

A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in eastern Ohio, causing fear and health concerns for locals.

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed and caused a fire in East Palestine, a village near the Ohio–Pennsylvania border. 

Twenty of the 141 cars on the train were carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing substance and a flammable gas that authorities feared might cause a massive explosion.

Other chemicals like butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, isobutylene, combustible liquids, and benzene residue were also released into the air, water, and soil. 

An evacuation order was immediately issued to hundreds of residents and business owners near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Schools and some roads were also closed for the week. 

“You need to leave, you just need to leave. This is a matter of life and death,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

No injuries from the train wreck were reported, but the toxic spill raised concerns about health effects, and locals are continuing to live in uncertainty and fear for their lives.

“Whenever we drove up to it, it was like you know watching a movie, it was awe-inspiring, we were frozen,” East Palestine business owner Nate Velez shared upon witnessing the crash. 

The magnitude caused Velez, his family, and his relatives to evacuate and leave everything behind, including his business, Velez Engines. 

“I’m not, we’re not rich people but can you imagine being in this situation with three families trying to find a place to stay and literally buying everything you need as you go?” he added. “On top of that if you’re like me, my house is on one side of the tracks and my business is on the other side, so my livelihood and my home are blocked.”

Resident Bodiah Cepin also expressed his worries. He said he has spent time researching online about ethylhexyl acrylate, one of the toxic substances that leaked from the train crash. 

“I’ve got my eye on moving somewhere else because I am young and it will take years to clean this up,” said Cepin. “Even a minute size of ethylhexyl can stay in the soil for years.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) have been monitoring the water and air quality since the incident and reported that the samples are below levels of concern. 

However, some residents had still complained about multiple health symptoms, such as nausea and a burning sensation in their eyes. The ODNR also disclosed that 3,500 fish were found dead in Columbiana County days after the derailment.

On February 9, the evacuation order was lifted, and locals were permitted to return home as the officials continued investigating and cleaning up the site.

The Ohio train derailment was a “complex environmental disaster” that would need long-term research, and it might take a while to get everything back to normal. But as Lynn R. Goldman, an environmental epidemiologist, dean of public health at George Washington University, and a former EPA official said: 

“What’s really important is that the government officials are monitoring the levels to make sure that they’re safe and clearly communicating that. But if you’re smelling these odors and they’re making you feel sick, I would want to be somewhere else.”

Currently, the Norfolk Southern Railway has received three class-action lawsuits from affected businesses and residents. One even demands the transport company to pay for the medical expenses of people living within a 30-mile radius.

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