Ohio town council to meet on environmental concerns after train derailment

Public meeting on Wednesday will attempt to ease growing fear in community

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed concerns about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Monday night. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed concerns about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Monday night. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailed nearly two weeks ago, releasing toxic fumes into the air and potentially contaminating the region's waterways, will meet this week to discuss the ongoing fallout from the incident.

The East Palestine city council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to address growing fear in the community that pets, livestock and farm animals would soon become exposed.


The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has said the spill was responsible for killing an estimated 3,500 small fish across several miles of streams near the crash site.

The Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3, with about 50 cars crashing off the tracks and erupting into flames. On Tuesday, Norfolk Southern Corporation pledged $1 million in a charitable fund to support East Palestine during recovery.

The state's Department of Agriculture said it had not received "any official reports regarding the wellness of animals related to the incident" but the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation encouraged members to test water from their local wells.


"The biggest concern is the water table at this point, to see what kind of exposure there has been to these chemicals," Nick Kennedy, the farm bureau's organizing director said.

Fearing an explosion days after the accident, emergency officials ordered a controlled chemical burn from five of the derailed cars, which sent a large plume of black smoke billowing into the atmosphere on Feb. 6.

Still, Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a joint statement last week that it was safe to come back to the area as air quality samples showed "readings at points below safety screening levels for contaminants of concern."

Authorities with the Environmental Protection Agency were still on the ground 10 days after the disaster, monitoring air quality and screening surrounding communities for traces of harmful chemicals, while hundreds of nervous residents had returned home in areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania after first being ordered to evacuate on Feb. 3.

The EPA has since acknowledged that chemicals from the train "continue to be released to the air, surface soils, and surface waters" and shared a list of chemicals released from the site, including vinyl chloride.


Vinyl chloride is a highly unstable carcinogen that is used to make PVC plastics, wire and cable coatings, car parts, housewares, and packing materials. Exposure to it can cause skin irritation, headaches, nausea, and vomiting, while longterm exposure is known to cause cancer.

The EPA Great Lakes said that as of Saturday it had screened 291 homes and found "no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride."

About 181 homes in the area remained to be screened but the EPA had not "detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident."

"We are conducting indoor and outdoor air monitoring to test for volatile organic compounds (including vinyl chloride) and other chemicals of concern. Our air monitoring uses a science-based approach and we will continue to consult with local authorities as more info is collected," the agency said.

Residents were set to receive free well water testing in affected areas while officials urged everyone to drink only bottled water.

Norfolk Southern president and CEO Alan Shaw said the company is committed to helping the East Palestine Community in Tuesday's press release.

"We will be judged by our actions," 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."


Shaw continued, stating that he expects to make more charitable contributions to the community.

The derailment is being investigated by the EPA, National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Rail Administration, and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials teams.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed concern about continuing environmental fallout in a series of tweets on Monday.

Buttigieg detailed the federal efforts to contain the spill, but didn't cite any specific misgivings about the situation besides its immediate impact on residents. He did note, however, that it was "important that families have access to useful and accurate information" amid the ongoing crisis.

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