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Officials lift evacuation order in East Palestine following train derailment; air quality deemed 'normal'

The evacuation order had been put in place Sunday night due to explosion and air quality concerns near the crash site in Columbiana County.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The evacuation order in East Palestine has been lifted following a train derailment this past weekend that released potentially hazardous chemicals into the air.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made the announcement Wednesday in conjunction with the East Palestine Fire Department and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DeWine authorized the lifting of the order after consulting with Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, whose commonwealth was also affected by the crash and agreed with the decision to bring residents home.

"The safety of the residents affected by the train derailment in East Palestine has been our No. 1 priority throughout," Fire Chief Keith Drabick said. "It is now safe to be in the evacuation area."

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On Monday afternoon, officials conducted a controlled release of chemicals after DeWine noted the contents of vinyl chloride in five of the rail cars were "currently unstable and could potentially explode, causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes." Due to these risks, all residents within a mile of the accident were ordered to leave under threat of arrest.

By Monday evening, Scott Deutsch of the Norfolk Southern Railway said crews were "very pleased" with the result of the release, which sent a plume of black smoke into the air.

"The detonation went perfect and we're already to a point where the cars are safe," Deutsch said. "They were not safe prior to this."

Officials had been conducting tests throughout the area and were awaiting more results before lifting the evacuation order. According to the governor's office, those tests revealed "readings at points below safety screening levels for contaminants of concern."

"All the readings we've been recording in the community have been normal concentrations, normal background, what you would find in almost any community operating outside," James Justice with the U.S. EPA told reporters.

In addition, the Ohio EPA has been examining the water quality in the village. While chemicals did indeed enter the waterways, "actions were taken to minimize that," according to environmental response specialist Kurt Kollar.

"All the information and data, to date, [show those actions have] still been protective of drinking water," Kollar said, noting that the immediate side effects were toxic to fish, however. "We are working closely with our partners to make sure that is maintained."

Officials will continue monitoring the area to see that levels remain normal. While citizens are free to return, Drabick called on all to adhere to the village's safe re-entry plan, which can be found below:

Residents wishing to see the EPA's air and water quality readings for themselves can find them on epaosc.org

A lawsuit has been filed against Norfolk Southern as a few East Palestine plaintiffs seek damages. Those with continuing concerns are encouraged to contact the railroad's family assistance center at (800) 230-7049.

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