Ohio residents demand answers two weeks after toxic chemical train derailment


Hundreds of residents of the Ohio village upended by a freight train derailment and the subsequent burning of some of the hazardous chemicals on board, have questioned officials over potential health hazards.

Norfolk Southern, the rail operator, did not join Wednesday night’s meeting in East Palestine – which was billed as an open house gathering with local, state and federal officials – because of concerns for their staff’s safety.

“Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees … around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties,” the railway said in a statement.

The meeting came as the community continued to seek answers over the potential impact on drinking water and the plans for cleanup. There also remain concerns over the huge plumes of smoke and persistent odors.

Even as school resumed and trains were rolling again, people in and around East Palestine were asking whether the air and water was safe for people, pets and livestock. Community members have asked for assistance in navigating the financial help that the railroad offered hundreds of families who evacuated.

Ohio attorney general Dave Yost advised Norfolk Southern on Wednesday that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator.

“The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,” Yost said in a letter sent to the company.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that the latest tests show water from five wells supplying the village’s drinking water are free from contaminants. But the EPA also is recommending testing for private water wells because they are closer to the surface.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Photograph: Gene J Puskar/AP

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates the spill affected more than 7 miles (11.2 kilometers) of streams and killed about 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters.

There hasn’t been any confirmed deaths of other wildlife, including livestock, state officials said.

Norfolk Southern announced Tuesday that it is creating a $1m fund to help the community of about 4,700 people while continuing remediation work, including removing spilled contaminants from the ground and streams and monitoring air quality.

It is also expanding the number of residents who can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs, to cover the entire village and surrounding area.

“We will be judged by our actions,” Norfolk Southern president and CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement. “We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.”

No one was injured when about 50 trains cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine on 3 February. As fears grew about a potential explosion, officials seeking to avoid an uncontrolled blast had the area evacuated and opted to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke billowing into the sky again.

A mechanical issue with a rail car axle is suspected to be the cause of the derailment, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it has video appearing to show a wheel bearing overheating just beforehand. The NTSB said it expects its preliminary report in about two weeks.

Misinformation spread online in the aftermath of the derailment, and state and federal officials have repeatedly offered assurances that air monitoring hasn’t detected any remaining concerns. Even low levels of contaminants that aren’t considered hazardous can create lingering odors or symptoms such as headaches, Ohio’s health director said Tuesday.

Authorities say that precautions are being taken to ensure contaminants that reached the Ohio River don’t make it into drinking water.

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( With inputs from : )


TheNewsCaravan News Desk

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