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Ohio Residents Want Answers About Safety After Train Derailment

https://ift.tt/JAUWXFz of residents of a small Ohio town met with state officials to discuss the health dangers they face after a train derailment earlier this month sparked a massive fire and unleashed toxic fumes.

At a Wednesday night town hall, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway tried to reassure citizens.

“We need our citizens to feel safe in their own homes,” he said, according to Reuters.

Conaway and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine told CNN on Wednesday that air quality in East Palestine was “safe,” but residents should not yet drink the water out of an abundance of caution.

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However, Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit group focused on the environment and public health, told Reuters the unknown dangers stemming from the derailment vastly outweigh reassurances that officials have given.

“This is clearly a very toxic brew of chemicals,” Olson told Reuters. “And I’ve not seen any public accounting for how many pounds or gallons of any of these chemicals that were released.”

He said the air and water testing that had been done so far was limited and “not all that reassuring.”

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train with 150 cars was taking cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, when about 50 cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine, along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

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No injuries were reported, but the derailed cars caught fire, releasing toxic fumes, including from vinyl chloride being hauled in the rail cars. Vinyl chloride, a colorless gas, has been deemed carcinogenic by the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Fearing a larger, uncontrolled explosion, officials ordered the town evacuated and then chose to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride in five rail cars, sending billowing smoke into the sky.

No officials of Norfolk Southern attended the meeting, saying in a statement, “After consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event.”

The suspected cause of the derailment was a mechanical issue with a rail car axle. The National Transportation Safety Board said it expected its preliminary report in about two weeks.

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Many attendees of the meeting were left frustrated.

“I have three grandbabies,” said Kathy Dyke, according to The Associated Press. “Are they going to grow up here in five years and have cancer?”

“Why are they being hush-hush?” Dyke said of the railroad. “They’re not out here supporting. They’re not out here answering questions. For three days, we didn’t even know what was on the train.”

In the two weeks since the derailment, East Palestine citizens have complained about suffering from headaches and irritated eyes, as well as finding their cars and lawns covered in soot. The hazardous chemicals that spilled from the train have killed thousands of fish, and residents said they have found dying or sick pets and wildlife.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine on Thursday to assess the response and hear from residents.

“We are absolutely going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable, and I can promise you that,” Regan said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

He reassured residents that since the initial fire was put out, the EPA had not detected “any levels of health concerns in the community that are attributed to the train derailment.”

Regan said water was being tested by local health agencies and that until results were returned, the Ohio Department of Health recommended that residents use bottled water.

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The White House also announced Thursday that staff from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were deploying to Ohio.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at the daily briefing that DeWine had “asked for additional public health testing and assessments.”

At least five lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wrote a letter to the railroad saying his office was considering legal action.

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

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Some information from this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

Author webdesk@voanews.com (VOA News)
Source : VOA

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