Second Harvest, Home Depot Help Clean the Air in East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley has spent many years helping the residents of East Palestine during tough times, usually helping food pantries get food into hungry bellies.

On Monday, the food bank delivered a different gift – 70 air purifiers and extra filters.

Kim Brock, director of operations at Second Harvest, said the air purifiers were donated by Home Depot and were to be distributed through First Church of Christ.

Brock said the First Church of Christ has been graciously prescreening those asking for the air purifiers, helping to ensure they are getting in the hands of households near the derailment and those who truly need them. About 130 to 140 households are on a list to obtain an air purifier, although this delivery will not be enough. The first 70 households on the list should receive a call in the next couple of days to come get one.

“One of the things that we’re finding is that there is still a lot of anxieties that kind of go along with the derailment, and our goal at Second Harvest is to just try to alleviate and minimize some of those anxieties, just so people can hopefully get back, sooner rather than later, to a form of normal,” Brock said.

First Church of Christ is one of the village’s food pantries, and Second Harvest has been working with the church to provide residents with pallets of water and weekly distributions of some fresh produce and shelf-stable items. The food bank also works with the East Palestine Nazarene Church.

“So we’re committed to East Palestine for sure,” Brock said. “We’re here to stay.”

The Winix D-480 air filters are advertised to totally replace the air in a 1,160-square-foot home twice per hour, removing things including dust, ultrafine particulates and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). In addition to the filters, which sell for $179 at Home Depot, the store helped to provide laundry detergent and cleaning supplies, which also have been distributed through Second Harvest.

Jennifer Gilbert, both a Home Depot employee and East Palestine resident, was one of the first people called to come get her air purifier. Her home on the eastern dead-end section of East North Avenue had a close-up view of the derailment, but luckily she was out having dinner with friends the evening of Feb. 3 and had not made it home yet when the derailment occurred. She saw photos sent to her by a neighbor standing in her yard.

By the time she returned home on the 14th, Gilbert said her house stunk and she immediately began cleaning it room by room. It took her two weeks just to do her bedroom, and she made her way through one room at a time.

“I tore my house apart, starting with my bedroom because that’s where I had to sleep with bedding and every stitch of clothes I owned,” Gilbert said. “Even my closets and my drawers, I took everything out and washed it. I had to take everything out of my cupboards and wash them. I washed them in water and soap, of course, and then I threw them into the dishwasher.”

Gilbert was concerned about items like plastics in her home because she does not feel like there was any guidance about whether the chemicals would remain on those items. She threw away the food in her refrigerator and freezer, because the electricity was shut off for hours during the controlled vent and burn. Even some food like sugar and flour was thrown away.

“You don’t know,” Gilbert said. “You don’t know what this does. I just know my house stunk.”

Gilbert works at the Home Depot in Boardman, and said she knows her store manager got together with six other stores in the district to obtain grant funding and help make sure residents got the air purifiers, as well as cleaning supplies. She said she also was honored by her manager for continuing to come to work despite what was happening in town, just one of many things that has recently left her emotional.

“This has been very emotional for women,” Gilbert said. “Men got mad, but us women got very emotional.”

Fear of the unknown regarding the chemicals led to Gilbert deciding not to let her 3-year-old granddaughter visit. She lives more than an hour away. From time to time as the cleanup continues, Gilbert can still smell that odor.

“I leave at 5 a.m. in the morning. … Every once in a while, that early in the morning, I don’t know what they are doing, but I can still smell that smell come up,” Gilbert said.

A recent release from the Environmental Protection Agency noted the lack of rain is creating more dust than normal at the site. However, it also noted vapor suppressants are being used to control odors around the work area, and perimeter air monitoring stations are located around the work zone.

The EPA continues to report that air sampling data supports that air quality has remained below screening levels.

A water truck wets down the streets behind the trucks hauling away solid and liquid waste. North Pleasant Drive will be closed as crews plan to excavate under the railroad tracks where it crosses the road there.

So far, an estimated 57,200 tons of solid waste has been shipped, as well as an estimated 20 million gallons of liquid waste, Gov. Mike DeWine’s office reported Friday.

The length of time that cleanup is taking has been frustrating for many in town, including Brock, who herself lives on East Taggart Street. As the main route out of town from East Palestine into Pennsylvania, the street remains closed at the state line as it has been since the derailment.

Work continues on tracks in East Palestine.

The latest information given to Traci Spratt, the East Palestine fiscal officer and interim village manager, is that the cleanup under the north track could be done by June 30, but then the railroad plans to work on remediation efforts in the surrounding area of the tracks. That work is projected to continue until August, or even September.

Spratt said she understands the frustrations some people are expressing about the time line, and at the same time she wants to make sure Norfolk Southern and the Environmental Protection Agency are doing a thorough job.

While residents wait, Brock said she wants people to feel safer in their homes. Second Harvest is continuing to work on getting more of the air purifiers for the remaining people on the list, and she urges anyone who still needs one to contact the church to get onto the list.

Additionally, the food bank is encouraging businesses and philanthropists to help with the efforts in East Palestine. Those interested can call Second Harvest at 330 792 5522 and speak to either Brock or Renee Fuller.

Pictured at top: Kim Brock, director of operations at Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.