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Ohio train derailment: Researchers raise health concerns due to several toxic chemicals in East Palestine

An analysis of EPA data by Texas A&M researchers has found nine air pollutants at levels higher than normal in East Palestine.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Three weeks after the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, an independent study indicates that the continued presence of toxic chemicals in the area could lead to health concerns.

The Texas A&M Superfund Research Center has found that nine of the 50 chemicals reported by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) air toxic data are at higher than normal levels. "If these levels continue, they may be of health concern," the center added in a series of tweets on Friday. 

Specifically, the center is concerned about the presence of acrolein. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, acrolein a "colorless or yellow liquid with a disagreeable odor." It is used to make other chemicals, plastics, and as a herbicide. Exposure to acrolein can lead to irritation of the eyes and skin, with effects on heart and lung function. Acrolein is also "toxic to aquatic life."

The study, which was first reported by the Washington Post, adds that levels of benzene and related "BTEX" chemicals appear normal. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

It would take months, if not years, of exposure to the pollutants for serious health effects, Weihsueh Chiu, one of the researchers, told the Post. 

The study from Texas A&M appears to contradict earlier findings from federal and state agencies that stated that the air in East Palestine was safe. Most notably, on Feb. 14, 11 days after the derailment, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine held a briefing and indicated that air quality levels were normal.

During his interview with 3News' Russ Mitchell on Friday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was asked about the Texas A&M Superfund Center report.

"I just read it. I immediately called our team and said, 'look, you go back to the experts that were there and I want to know what they think of that.' There's nothing wrong with people outside the bubble who are looking at data and coming up with their own interpretation," DeWine said. "That's a good thing. It challenges people who are on the ground and we await their answer."

Following the interview,  DeWine's office forwarded the below statement to 3News with an update from the EPA:

“EPA’s 24/7 air monitoring data continues to show that exposure levels of the 79 monitored chemicals are below levels of concern for adverse health impacts from short-term exposures. The long-term risks referenced by this analysis assume a lifetime of exposure, which is constant exposure over approximately 70 years. EPA does not anticipate levels of these chemicals will stay high for anywhere near that. We are committed to staying in East Palestine and will continue to monitor the air inside and outside of homes to ensure that these levels remain safe over time.”

The wreck occurred on Feb. 3, when the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks and caught fire. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the train was going between Madison, Illinois and Conway, Pennsylvania, passing through Cleveland prior to derailing in Columbiana County. 

Due to the potential for an explosion, officials evacuated everyone within a one-mile radius and conducted a "controlled release" of hazardous chemicals on Feb. 6. Although residents were cleared to return home just days following the release, there continue to be health and safety concerns.


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