Examining the Consequences: Health Effects of the 2023 Train Derailment in Ohio

The aftermath of a derailment in eastern last year is not considered a public health emergency, according to federal officials. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not approve this designation, despite concerns about potential long-term health consequences and the evacuation of half the town of East .

train lies scattered and burning along
train lies scattered and burning along (Image source: Twitter)

The decision to burn a toxic chemical three days after the derailment further exacerbated contamination concerns. Although some residents still experience respiratory problems and unexplained rashes, the EPA believes the situation does not warrant a public health emergency declaration. The agency asserts that it has sufficient authority to respond to the derailment without such a declaration.

The text highlights the lack of environmental data as the reason for not considering a public health emergency due to ongoing chemical exposures. The EPA issued an order to Norfolk Southern, stating that the conditions at the derailment site could pose a significant risk to public health or the environment.

Despite this, the agency did not see the need for a public health emergency as it had the necessary legal authority to respond. However, local residents, such as Jami Wallace, are witnessing concerning signs like with rashes and chronic nosebleeds, along with the return of chemical smells after heavy rains, indicating a potential disaster in their hometown.

“They keep saying it's a coincidence, but if this was your family, wouldn't you get tired of it being a coincidence?” Wallace said.

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Lesley Pacey, who is an environmental investigator with the watchdog group, said she wants to make sure that East Palestine residents get the help that they need to recover from the derailment.

“I talk to residents all the time and they're having new seizures pop up, cancers. I mean, a lot of the damage has already been done to these people,” Pacey said.

Federal and state officials are closely monitoring a small community near the Pennsylvania border for any additional problems.

The EPA is conducting ongoing tests on the air and water in the area while overseeing the railroad's cleanup efforts.

Over 100 million tests conducted by the EPA on air, water, and soil have not shown concerning levels of chemicals, except for the soil immediately surrounding the derailment site.

In recently disclosed emails, an EPA lawyer advises against including information about medical benefits in a document regarding the cleanup order given to Norfolk Southern.

Medical benefits, such as Medicare coverage, are only available if the EPA declares a public health emergency.

“But again there was no data suggesting that that was necessary. And to this date, there is no data that suggests that that's necessary,” Durno said

The railroad has spent over $1.1 billion on the response to the derailment, with $104 million in direct aid to East Palestine. has not declared a disaster, causing frustration among residents. The promised fund for long-term health needs has not been created yet.

The EPA was aware of the dangers of releasing and burning vinyl chloride, advising on the creation of harmful chemicals. Officials decided to release and burn it to prevent further explosions. The EPA found low levels of hydrogen chloride and no phosgene during the incident.

The NTSB investigation revealed that the vent and burn of vinyl chloride was unnecessary, as the company producing it assured no dangerous reactions. The derailment was likely caused by an overheating wheel bearing. The cleanup is expected to be completed later this year.

Rick Tsai, a congressional candidate, believes the lack of resources poses a threat to East Palestine's future. A public health emergency designation could help provide the necessary resources for safety.

“People are just about to give up,” he lamented. “I don't think people have much hope anymore.”

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