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Questions and concerns linger in East Palestine more than 3 months after toxic train derailment

'I don’t think it ever will be back to normal.'

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The stench that filled the air in the aftermath of the East Palestine train derailment has faded, but questions and concerns continued to swirl Thursday, more than three months into the cleanup.

No matter how much time has passed, moving on from the February 3 train derailment hasn’t come any easier for many people who live and work in East Palestine.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Kari Brieck said. “It plummeted. Our whole town just went down.”

Brieck has lived in the town and raised her two children here since 2015.

“We are a great town. I love East Palestine,” she said. “But for a derailment to happen, people think it’s not that bad, it really was.”

Brieck still takes her kids to her parents’ home in Pennsylvania to play in the dirt and to take a bath, because she said she doesn’t feel comfortable with the water and soil in her own neighborhood.

“Just out of precaution, we want to make sure everything is safe for the kids,” she said.

While much has changed since the February crash, the effects of it are still obvious, from the closed roads and ongoing cleanup, to the presence of the EPA—which has now set up shop in the middle of town. They provide weekly newsletters and hold weekly meetings for residents.

Still, there are plenty of questions and concerns.

“A lot of confusion. No one wants to be honest about exactly what’s going on,” said Gerri Coblentz, who has lived in East Palestine for more than 20 years.

“Just throw a little money at them it will make them happy. No, it doesn’t make us happy. We want truth.”

Coblentz is among many neighbors skeptical about the health and safety of their neighborhoods after the derailment. Response teams have provided air and water filters to them and as recently as Thursday, health officials have tried to reassure them.

“All of the monitoring of the air, soil, public and private water systems in the East Palestine area continue to show no concerning levels of contaminants,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“Now, in terms of the testing for vinyl chloride, we understand and respect people's concerns and their desire for as much information as possible. But as we've been saying since the early days after the derailment incident, there really are no good scientifically based tests for quantitatively assessing past exposure," he added.

Amid the scrutiny over the response, you will also find encouraging messages throughout the town, showing that what happened here more than three months ago has also brought people together.

“We watch out for each other,” Coblentz said.

Some neighbors and business owners have moved out or been forced to close. Others like Brieck are here to stay for now, but don’t know whether their town will ever be the same.

“I don’t think it ever will be back to normal,” she said.


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