East Palestine Youth Find Normalcy Following Derailment

EAST PALESTINE – As Gov. Mike DeWine and other government officials gave updates on the East Palestine train derailment Wednesday afternoon, teenagers had decided to take advantage of the near perfect weather to play basketball and tennis in the city park behind them.

FEMA and environmental companies involved in the clean-up efforts have taken over parts of the park with their equipment and trailers. Yet nearly a month after the Feb. 3 derailment, groups of teenagers and children in East Palestine were back to doing what they normally would do on a 70-degree sunny afternoon — playing sports, riding bicycles and exploring the Rainbow Dreamland playground. 

DeWine noted that he and his wife, Fran, had visited students and administrators at the East Palestine Schools earlier in the day. Instead of reflecting heavily on the train derailment, which has become a major topic of concern drawing national attention, the students spoke with the DeWines about their upcoming track meets and Lion King performances. Wednesday night the National Honor Society welcomed its newest group of East Palestine inductees. 

DeWine credited the normalcy at the schools to the teachers, school superintendent, the principals, the students and their families.

“If you did not know that this train wreck had occurred, you would not know it by walking in that school,” DeWine said. “They were doing things that you would expect kids to do every single day in school.” 

DeWine said officials will continue to take a holistic approach toward the situation in East Palestine and help make true the wishes of so many of residents he has spoken to – getting life back to normal happen as soon as possible.

Since the arrival of Ohio officials shortly after the derailment and during his four visits to East Palestine, DeWine said they have worked to make the village safe again. 

“The most important message I can convey to the people of East Palestine is we’re going to stay here,” DeWine said. “We’re here. We’re with you and we’re going to continue to work to get the job done.” 

Yet, while people want life to get back to normal, some residents are finding their personal doctors may not be ready to answer their health related questions and concerns.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff noted there simply is not a blood or urine test for vinyl chloride to give a definitive result. Local physicians understandably have not had much experience with these chemicals until the train derailment.

He went on to encourage residents to come to the Health Assessment Clinic, which will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and no longer requires an appointment. Vanderhoff said at this clinic residents will be assessed and see a medical professional who has access to a toxicologist. Additionally, a long-term plan can be created in conjunction with the resident’s local physician to continue monitoring any health concerns. Those without a local doctor will be given information on getting them.

According to Vanderhoff, the clinic can be a resource for the local doctors to learn more about the possible affects of exposure to these chemicals to assist residents going forward.

After meeting with East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick and others, DeWine said he would like to see the additional training for the mostly volunteer fire departments in the rural areas, villages and small cities where railroads come through. DeWine said he is confident something can be done in conjunction with Norfolk Southern.

DeWine announced the Ohio Public Utilities Commission will have up to $800,000 in grant funding available for Ohio fire departments to pay for critical hazardous materials response training. The training will be funded through fines paid by hazardous material carriers and shippers.

Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose said the FRA, with help from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is kicking off a nationwide focused inspection on train routes that carry high hazard trains and those carrying hazardous materials. The focused inspections will look at track quality, signal and train control infrastructure and systems, operating practices of dispatch and crew, mechanical equipment including tank cars used to transport hazardous materials and hazardous materials packaging. Bose said these will help keep railroad employees and the communities they go through safer.

Bose said the FRA also has released a safety advisory on Tuesday about hot bearing detectors. Secretary of the Department of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is encouraging Norfolk Southern to join the FRA close-call program.

“We will continue to take steps to ensure the highest level of safety and so that no community experiences what the people of East Palestine are going through and have endured over the past couple of weeks,” Bose said.

Federal EPA Region Five Administrator Debra Shore gave her daily report, reiterating that as they continue to test the air and in more than 500 East Palestine homes, the EPA has found no unsafe air quality levels.

Shore said they are getting ready to move the incident command center out of the Centenary United Methodist Church to a new location just outside of Columbiana, not to leave the community, but to free up parking spaces and resources downtown for the residents.

Captain Jill Shugart, the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry team leader, said members of the team will be going door-to-door Thursday so residents can take part in providing them with information through the Assessment of Chemicals Exposures survey.

Residents can go to ema.ohio.Gov/EastPalestine to sign up to get the press releases with the latest information on the East Palestine efforts.

According to the numbers provided to DeWine’s office from the Ohio EPA, approximately 1.8 million gallons of liquid wastewater have been hauled out of East Palestine. Of this total, approximately 150,000 gallons were shipped to Vickery Environmental in Vickery, Ohio, to be disposed of through deep well injection; approximately 1.4 million gallons were sent to Texas Molecular in Deer Park, Texas, to be disposed of through deep well injection; and approximately 300,000 gallons were shipped to Detroit Industrial Well in Romulus, Michigan, to be disposed of through deep well injection.

Ohio EPA reports that approximately 700 tons of solid waste have also left the derailment site. Ross Incineration Services in Grafton, Ohio, received approximately 40 tons to be incinerated; approximately 200 tons were sent to Heritage Thermal Services in nearby East Liverpool to be incinerated; and approximately 400 tons were shipped to U.S. Ecology Wayne Disposal in Belleville, Michigan, to be placed in a landfill.

While clean up continues in Ohio, Pennsylvania Acting Attorney General Michelle Henry said her office has opened a new hotline to accept complaints from those across the border. The derailment occurred less than a mile from the state line, leaving residents in Pennsylvania to have many of the same concerns about water and air quality.

Henry is encouraging residents with concerns to call 724-858-4689 or send an email to derailment@attorneygeneral.gov or visit www.attorneygeneral.gov/norfolk-southern-derailment/.

Additionally, Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency has set up an online train derailment dashboard providing information about resources for having air and water tests completed, health assessments and cleaning services.

U.S. senators for Pennsylvania, John Fetterman and Bob Casey, along with U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio reported they sent a letter on Wednesday to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw urging the railroad to include 16115, 16120 and 16141 zip codes as places where they will assist residents and provide reimbursement for expenses related to the evacuation following the Feb. 3 derailment and controlled vent and burn on Feb. 6.

While all residents in the 44413 zip code, which is the area in and around East Palestine, are eligible, nearby residents in Pennsylvania’s Beaver and Lawrence Counties reportedly are having their requests considered on a case-by-case basis.

Upcoming events include:

— The EPA Community Welcome Center remains open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily to answer questions.

— Another visit is planned by Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich at the Columbiana Theatre at 6 p.m. Thursday.

— An open house and public information session by the EPA and other agencies will take place at the East Palestine High School gymnasium from 6 to 9 p.m. today, with Norfolk Southern in attendance. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. a response update and question and answer session will be held in the auditorium. The Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer mobile laboratory will be in the parking lot for people to learn more about how it will continue to monitor.

— The Brightside Project in Salem is planning to hold a community-wide relief distribution event on Saturday.

Pictured at top: Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose said the FRA is kicking off a nationwide inspection of train routes that carry high hazard trains.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.