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Case Western Reserve University researchers study health impact of East Palestine train derailment

Researchers from CWRU launched the Healthy Futures Research Study to look at the long-term health impact after the East Palestine train derailment.

CLEVELAND — Case Western Reserve University researchers are now recruiting residents of East Palestine to take part in a study to measure if there's any long-term health impact or cancer risk from the toxic soup of chemicals that spilled out of the Norfolk Southern train back in February. 

They set up an informational booth at the Columbiana County Fair in Lisbon to begin educating residents about their goals. 

It's called the Healthy Futures Research Study.

"We want to provide this kind of general information to them that we're not testing for cancer now, but we're trying to understand what the propensity almost like family history. You know, maybe the chemical reaction is actually increasing your chance, just like if you had a positive family history member," said lead researcher Fred Schumacher, Ph.D., MPH, Associate Professor in the Department of Population and amd Quantitative Health Sciences at the CWUR School of Medicine. 

The study is looking for residents aged 18 and older who live in the four county region around the derailment site, which includes Columbiana and Mahoning counties and two counties in Pennsylvania. 

Participants will also be compensated based on the level of involvement in the study. 

For those who just fill out a questionaire, they can get a $25 gift card.  Those who choose to give blood, hair and toe nail samples can make up to $125. 

"The long term goal is to start this bio repository and begin to look at what the health effects from not just the train derailment, but obviously focusing on that and seeing what the effects are going to be on their their health over time," Schumacher said. 

The team will be working with the Ohio Department of Health.  

"So this is really hopefully to put people on alert, to know when to become more aggressive about screening or prevention or when to change some of their lifestyle habits to help kind of reduce that risk,"  Schumacher said. 

Schumacher added that this research may take years. 

Credit: Case Western Reserve University

The following is information from the Healthy Futures Research Study explaining the study. 

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying several hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate among others, derailed in the village of East Palestine, Ohio. For residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities, concerns about the long-term environmental and health impacts of these exposures remain high. The mixture of chemicals involved in this disaster makes it difficult to determine what to measure or monitor in blood and urine samples. Also, the amount of time that most of these chemicals can be detected is very short and blood and urine samples might only provide a snapshot of the amount of chemicals still in the body. As a resident of this area, you have a lot at stake for yourself, your families and your neighbors.

Another way to learn about how these chemicals may have impacted your body is to look at  your DNA. This is called measuring “genotoxicity” (toxic to the genes).. The majority of DNA changes are harmless and can be repaired by your body, ; however, some DNA changes can increase your risk for certain diseases in the future. Knowing about any potential increased risk can help you get the prevention and screening health care you might need in the future. .

CWRU has proposed the “Healthy Futures Research Study”, to collect information about you in a survey and by sampling your blood to measure DNA changes to your genes from chemical exposure.. The research will  i) build a partnership with community organizations and residents in East Palestine and the surrounding communities; ii) measure DNA changes relative to distance from the train derailment; and iii) interview community members about perceived experiences, exposures and post-disaster stress.

Our goal in the Healthy Futures Research Study is to partner with you and your neighbors  so we all have the best information about the long-term health effects of the train derailment and general community health.

If you would like to take part in the Healthy Futures Research Study, email healthyfutures@case.edu

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