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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says air in East Palestine is safe following train derailment; people in area advised to drink bottled water

The briefing came nearly a week after an evacuation order was lifted and residents within a mile of the crash were permitted to return to their homes.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state officials provided an update on the East Palestine train derailment at a press conference on Tuesday.

The briefing came nearly a week after an evacuation order was lifted and residents within a mile of the crash were permitted to return to their homes. Residents remain concerned about safety and odors from potentially toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride remain in the air, but Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says air quality levels remain normal.

"People should be confident that multiple agencies — both at the state and national level — are very serious about this, are watching very closely, are not allowing any wiggle room when it comes to safety," Vanderhoff told reporters.

Due to risk of explosion, the Norfolk Southern Railway conducted a "controlled release" of vinyl chloride from five derailed cars, something DeWine ordered after saying it was the least of "two bad options." In all, the National Transportation Safety Board confirms 10 wrecked cars contained hazardous materials, but DeWine says the train was not designated as having "high-hazardous material," and therefore the railroad was not required to notify Ohio officials of the exact contents on board as it passed through the state.

"I would think that the members of Congress [should], and I would ask them to, take a look at this," the governor said. "This is absurd."

The NTSB added at least three other wrecked rail cars loaded with chemicals such as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and butyl acrylate may have been breached. While containment measures have helped stabilize water quality levels, the Ohio EPA says roughly 3,500 fish from 12 difference species have died since the controlled explosion, and that the chemical burn made its way into six different waterways including the Ohio River, where a contaminant plume has made its way towards West Virginia.

"The farther it travels down the Ohio River, the more it is dissipating," Surface Water Division Chief Tiffani Kavalec explained. "We haven't seen a risk even at the most closest points to East Palestine, so we would not envision anything from this point forward impacting any of the further drinking water supplies."

While authorities say the risk to public drinking water remains very low, Vanderhoff did suggest those in East Palestine and along the east part of the Ohio River drink bottled water in the short term. DeWine concurred, but did say he would feel comfortable going back home if he lived in East Palestine.

"I would be drinking the bottled water and I would be continuing to find out what the tests were showing as far as the air," the governor said when asked about the hypothetical. "I would be alert and concerned, but I think I would probably be back in my house."

Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against Norfolk Southern seeking monetary damages and medical testing. DeWine, who has spoken with both President Joe Biden and NS CEO Alan H. Shaw about the situation, vowed to hold the railroad accountable.

"Norfolk Southern is responsible for this problem," DeWine declared, also threatening potential legal action from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. "The impact on this community is huge."

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