Evacution of East Palestine, Ohio, after a heavy train derailed near the Pennsylvania state line on February 8, 2012, according to fire chief Keith Drabick
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Evacuated residents can safely return to the Ohio village where crews burned toxic chemicals after a train derailed five days ago near the Pennsylvania state line, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said Wednesday.
The evacuation order was lifted February 8, five days after the derailment, after earlier air and water sample results led officials to deem the area safe.
James Justice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said around-the-clock air monitoring has shown normal, un-concerning levels. The data shows that the air quality in the town is safe.
Some people have complained about smelling chlorine and smoke in the air after the controlled release of the chemicals, but there are no reports of injuries.
Many nearby residents left shortly after the derailment, and others were ordered out before the controlled release of the chemicals because of concerns about serious health risks from it.
As officials tried to make sure the air was safe before relaxing the order, members of the Ohio National Guard wore protective gear and took readings in homes, basements and businesses.
There were about 50 cars that derailed in a fiery crash on the edge of East Palestine. Federal investigators say a mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the derailment.
Norfolk Southern v.s. EPA, saying there are no hazardous chemicals in the East Palestine neighborhoods of Derailed Cars (Viscose)
Some business owners and East Palestine residents have filed lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, saying the company was negligent and demanding the company fund court-supervised medical screenings for serious illnesses that may be caused by exposure to those chemicals.
Norfolk Southern wrote a list of the chemicals that were in the derailed cars. In addition to vinylchloride andbutyl acrylate, it mentions ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, both of which can cause headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues in people exposed to them.
On Wednesday the town was declared safe after the evacuate order was lifted, but people are still reporting headaches, burning sensations in the eyes, and a strong odor.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring the air quality, said it has not detected “any levels of concern” in East Palestine as of Sunday.
The agency stated that no vinyl or hydrogen chloride have been detected in the 281 homes screened as of Monday. There are 181 homes left for evaluation in the program.
The vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen that becomes a gas at room temperature after being loaded on five cars. It is used to make polyvinylchloride, a type of plastic used in pipes, wire and cable coating and car parts.
When vinyl chloride is exposed in the environment, it breaks down from sunlight within a few days and changes into other chemicals such as formaldehyde. When it is spilled in soil or surface water, the chemical evaporates into the air quickly, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The EPA has been monitoring for several other hazardous chemicals, including phosgene and hydrogen chloride, which are released by burning vinyl chloride. Exposure to phosgene can cause eye irritation, dry burning throat and vomiting; while hydrogen chloride can irritate the skin, nose, eyes and throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Community Action Plan for the East Palestine Air Quality Campaign: After the Supermassive Chlorine Contamination in the August 19 Collision, Nathen Velez and his Ex-wife Sue Dannemiller
Since we are entering into a longer term phase, people will be worried about the long-term exposure that comes at lower levels,” said Dannemiller who studies indoor air quality.
She urges East Palestine residents to participate in the EPA’s at- home air screenings so they can learn how much they are exposed to.
Dannemiller recommends residents to wipe down surfaces, especially areas that collect dust, and wash items that absorb smells, such as bed sheets and curtains. She suggests vacuuming in short periods of time to try to prevent pollutants from getting into the air.
An overwhelming stench of chlorine filled the air this week where Nathen Velez and his wife had been raising their two children, quickly burning his throat and eyes.
Norfolk Southern officials decided against taking part in a community meeting about the situation on Wednesday, due to threats to employees.
“We have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties,” the company said in a release.
Company officials had hoped to join local leaders Wednesday evening to update the community on the steps they are taking to “safely clean up the accident site and to provide the latest results from ongoing water and air testing,” the release reads.
Residents were invited to meet with the attorneys prior to the community meeting to discuss theFka of the train wreck.
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Since the derailment, many residents in East Palestine remain plagued with anxiety. Velez is trying to keep his family away from where he used to call home by spending small fortunes.
“My wife is a nurse and is not taking any chances exposing us and our two young children to whatever is now in our town,” Velez wrote on Facebook. “The risk and anxiety of trying to live in our own home again is not worth it.”
Tiffany Kavalec is the division chief of surface water at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Nevertheless, worrying signs continue to emerge, including a newly public document that says potentially contaminated soil has not yet been removed from the site – a critical step experts say should be completed quickly so that toxic materials are not further dispersed into the environment and groundwater.
Cleanup and monitoring of the site could take years, Kurt Kohler of the Ohio EPA’s Office of Emergency Response said February 8, vowing that after the emergency response, “Ohio EPA is going to remain involved through our other divisions that oversee the long-term cleanup of these kinds of spill.” The federal EPA, too, will “continue to do everything in our power to help protect the community,” Administrator Michael Regan said Tuesday.
The company that Norfolk Southern contracted to clean up its sites did not include soil removal in its activities list, as recently exposed by the EPA.
According to Richard Peltier, an environmental health scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, contaminated soils will continue to leech contaminants from the surrounding ground and into the air. There will be a flood of new contaminants every time it rains.
CNN asked Norfolk Southern if they had filled in contaminated areas to reopen the rail line after they did not remove contaminated soil.
Anecdotes in the area of a train derailment zone: Ben Velez’s frustrations with public health officials
Ben’s family and he are worried about the longer-term risks being only assessed by environmental officials.
Ben, a cafe owner who plays extras in a film that is eerily similar to the train accident crisis, said he felt a mix of feelings from the beginning, just the amount of unknown.
“It’s hard to make an investment in something like that or even feel good about paying our mortgage whenever there might not be any value to those things in the future,” he said. “That’s something tough to come to grips with.”
Norfolk Southern said Wednesday it was creating a $1 million charitable fund to support East Palestine, saying it was “committed” to the community “today and in the future.”
When Velez returned on Monday to check on his home and his business, he developed a throbbing head that stayed with him throughout the night, leaving him with a nagging fear.
Despite Velez’s experience, air quality does not appear to be the source of headaches and sore throats among people or deaths of animals such as cats and chickens in and around the derailment zone, Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Tuesday.
The ability to cause headaches, eye irritation, nose irritation and other symptoms at lower levels is caused by volatile organic compounds. I think it’s important that we look at the measured facts, because the air sampling in that area is not pointing to an air source for this.
“Anecdotes are challenging because they’re anecdotes,” Vanderhoff said. Everything that we have gathered so far is pointing toward very low measurements.
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As to odor, residents “in the area and tens of miles away may smell odors coming from the site,” Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee told CNN on Wednesday. The substances involved have a low odor threshold. This means people could smell the contaminants at much lower levels than they are considered hazardous.
Ben said that the family was limiting its water use because of unknown affects. Velez worries “every time we turn the water on or give my daughter a bath could potentially be hazardous,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Fire combustion chemicals” flowed to the Ohio River, “but the Ohio River is very large, and it’s a water body that’s able to dilute the pollutants pretty quickly,” Kavalec said. The chemicals are a “contaminant plume” the Ohio EPA and other agencies have tracked in real time and is believed to be moving about a mile an hour, she said.
The majority of the chemicals can be passed through the closing of the drinking water intakes. This strategy, along with drinking water treatment … are both effective at addressing these contaminants and helps ensure the safety of the drinking water supplies,” Kavalec said, adding they’re pretty confident “low levels” of contaminants that remain are not getting to customers.
He and his family have been Airbnb-hopping 30 minutes from their home since they evacuated, but rental options and their finances are running out, he said, and a friend set up a GoFundMe to help the family.
Many of us residents are stuck in the same place and the sad truth is that there is no answer. Abandoning and paying a mortgage on a potentially worthless home is the only viable solution.