SALEM, Ohio — On Thursday, farmers from the East Palestine area met with leaders from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to learn what impacts last month's Norfolk Southern toxic train derailment may have had on their livestock and crops.
The meeting came as the busy planting season is set to begin.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will be collecting anywhere between 60 and 300 soil samples on farms and properties in a five-county area around East Palestine, testing for chemicals related to the derailment and subsequent controlled release.
"It's 'Do we have a problem?' and if so, what are the levels of contaminants?" explained Mark Durno, local response coordinator for the U.S. EPA.
As far as what Durno expects to find, the answer to farmers at Thursday's meeting was "not much."
"We don't believe so," he added. "All the monitoring data and sampling we've done to date on scene doesn't indicate that we have any substantial risk away from the site."
That's the key. In Thursday's meeting, they were talking about properties away from the derailment site. The EPA knows there has been contamination on the site, but based on data from them, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others, they say there has been no sign of animals or crops being impacted thus far and hope further testing will prove their hypothesis.
"You do want to make sure product is safe from possible contamination and it seems like they're claiming everything is okay," said Spencer Gallagher, a farmer from Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. "I really want to see the tests and I want to see more than one place do the tests."
The EPA is expecting the first data from these tests to come back in under two weeks. They say they will post the results for the public to see.
"As the animals get into spring, they're eating this new growth of legumes. The cattle are out there in the pastures and the grass is green, we want to make sure it continues to stay safe," added Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Brian Baldridge.
The EPA says Norfolk Southern contractors will also be conducting soil sampling, which will include agricultural, residential, commercial, and recreational properties in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. The EPA stresses that agricultural properties will be given a "high priority" with the upcoming planting season on the horizon.
Contractors from the EPA will be taking a number of samples at the same location as Norfolk Southern to confirm the accuracy of the railroad's results.
You can watch Thursday's meeting in Salem in the player below: