OAN Roy Francis
10:12 AM PT – Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Authorities have been telling residents of the area around East Palestine, Ohio, that it is safe for them to return home now, over ten days after the derailment.
Evacuations of nearby areas were ordered after a train carrying vinyl chloride, a highly volatile gas, had derailed on February 3rd.
A controlled release and burn of the chemical from the train had been conducted in order to avoid a bigger disaster, or an explosion, which was the primary fear after the derailment.
However, the controlled burn had released a thick black cloud that covered the nearby town, and brought on new fears of chemicals being released into the air and surrounding water.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources had estimated that the chemical spill from the derailment had killed around 3,500 fish across over seven miles of streams.
Residents as far as North Lima, 10 miles away from the crash site, are reporting that their pets and animals are having health problems, with some reports of chickens dying due to the chemicals in the air.
Residents are skeptical of authorities as they tell them that it is safe to come back home, and that the air quality in area is being tested and is safe.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been overseeing the air quality testing in the area and said that “Air monitoring since the fire went out, has not detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time.”
In a letter that was sent to Norfolk Southern on Friday, EPA stated that chemicals were still being released into the air. They also said that they are testing the indoor air of houses in the area. As of Saturday evening, 210 homes have already been tested with no detection of vinyl chloride, and another 218 have yet to be tested.
However, Andrew Whelton, a professor of environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University said that the burn that was being conducted had possibly created other compounds. He went on to express the concern that the EPA might not be testing the air in case of additional compounds being released.
“When they combusted the materials, they created other chemicals,” he said. “The question is what did they create?”
Nearby ranchers have been evacuating their animals from the area as a precaution. Ranchers are concerned about the air quality, but water that is used for their animals is a bigger concern for them.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation is urging ranchers and farmers to get the water from their wells tested as soon as possible.
“The biggest concern is the water table at this point,” said Nick Kennedy, the bureau’s organizing director. “To see what kind of exposure there has been to these chemicals, there’s some level of frustration out there. They just want answers. Their livelihoods might be at stake here.”
Groundwater testing by the Columbiana County Health District who had partnered with the state Health Department, and the state EPA and contractors for Norfolk Southern, began a week after the derailment, but test results have yet to come back.