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Ohio train derailment: What to expect as the chemical cleanup begins in East Palestine

Experts predict that East Palestine residents can expect the cleanup to last at least two months.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — When Norfolk Southern's train derailed in East Palestine two weeks ago, several chemicals were released, such as vinyl chloride, which made the giant black cloud during the controlled release.

In addition, butyl acrelate and ethylhexyl acrylate, used in paint, plastics and adhesives, spilled onto the ground and into the streams. Those chemicals can lead to breathing issues.

The question is, will they seep into water wells?

"Chemicals that volatilize that quickly have a less of a chance to get to the groundwater it has to make it through that 30 feet of soil, sand and gravel to get to the water table, the chances of that happening are pretty low actually," said Rob Darner, a groundwater specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  

Solon Fire Chief Mark Vedder is also the Director of Chagrin/Southeast Hazardous Materials Response Team. While neither he nor Darner are part of the East Palestine response, Vedder says East Palestine residents can expect the clean up to last at least two months.

On Saturday, federal health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will arrive in town to begin assessing the health of residents. 

Vedder says depending on what's found in the cleanup and how deep the chemicals go into the soil, those assessments could potentially last decades.

Environmental cleanup specialists will begin digging out layers of contaminated soil and checking for chemicals as they go through each layer. 

In addition to the federal response, the Ohio Department of Health will set up a medical clinic in East Palestine next week to engage with residents, answer questions, evaluate any symptoms, and provide medical expertise.

“We know that the science says that East Palestine is safe, but we also know that residents are very worried,” said Governor Mike DeWine on Friday. “They are asking themselves 'Is my headache just a headache? Or is it a result of the chemical spill? Are other medical symptoms caused by the spill?' Those are very legitimate questions and residents deserve answers.”

Working with the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio EPA, and U.S. EPA, HHS teams will begin seeing patients early next week. Teams will include national experts on the impacts of chemical exposure.

The location of the clinic and hours will be announced on ema.ohio.gov/eastpalestine when this information is available.

Also the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is supporting the county Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Board to ensure that residents know what resources are available.

In addition to local resources, the Ohio Careline, 1-800-720-9616, is open 24 hours a day and staffed with trained mental health professionals who are there to listen and help. All calls are free and confidential. They can also connect you with local resources if follow-up care is needed.

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