EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — A plume of chemicals that spilled into the Ohio River after a fiery train derailment has broken up and is no longer a concern, Ohio’s governor said Friday. But worries remain near the disaster site among residents who have complained about lingering headaches and irritated eyes.
Despite repeated assurances that air and water testing has shown no signs of contaminants, some around East Palestine, along the Pennsylvania state line, are still skeptical and afraid to return to their homes.
Early next week, the state plans to open a medical clinic in the village to evaluate those who are worried and analyze their symptoms, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced. The clinic will include a team of experts in chemical exposures that is being deployed to eastern Ohio.
“These are very legitimate questions, and residents deserve an answer,” DeWine said while also emphasizing that testing inside and outside of homes in the village have no found no signs of toxins that were on the train.
“We’re doing absolutely everything we can to assure residents to what the situation is,” he said. “I understand people have been traumatized. I understand skepticism.”
Nick Patrone, who lives four miles outside the village, said there is definitely an irritant in the air.
“You feel it,” he said. “A lot of my friends have children who have rashes that are unexplained all over their bodies. They have sore throats, they have congestion, they have ear irritation.”
Earlier this week, hundreds of people showed up at a public meeting to voice concerns and get answers from not only state and local leaders but also railroad operator Norfolk Southern. But representatives of the railroad were absent, saying they were worried about physical threats.
DeWine was upset by the no-show and said Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw needs to go to East Palestine and answer questions.
At least five lawsuits have been filed against the railroad, and lawyers have been showing up in the area to offer advice and legal options.
Two weeks have now passed since the freight train carrying a variety of hazardous chemicals derailed, but the stench of what spilled hasn’t left. In the aftermath, residents have complained about finding their cars covered in soot, their homes filled with overpowering odors and their pets getting sick or dying.
The chemicals also spilled into nearby creeks, killing thousands of fish, and a smaller amount eventually made their way into the Ohio River.
While environmental officials said the contaminant amounts in the river were low enough that they did not pose a threat, cities in Ohio and West Virginia that get their drinking water from the river had been monitoring a slow-moving plume and a few temporarily switched to alternative water sources.
Water samples on Friday showed the plume is now completely gone, DeWine said.
The governor also said that air testing inside 500 homes hasn’t detected dangerous levels in the village since residents were allowed to return after the controlled release and burn of five tanker cars filled with vinyl chloride, which is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers.
DeWine said the derailment has been traumatic for the village of just under 5,000 people. But he said “no one is trying to downplay anything.”
Ohio Health Department Director Bruce Vanderhoff said the extensive testing of air and water that has been in place the past two weeks should be reassuring.
“We have been guided from the beginning by people who are national experts on what to test for,” he said.
Seewer reported from Toledo.