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Ohio train derailment in East Palestine: Where do things stand 6 months later?

As Gov. Mike DeWine shared updates on the situation Thursday, residents continue to persevere but are still voicing their concerns.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Feb. 3, 2023.

It was a date six months ago that will be cemented in Ohio history after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine near the Pennsylvania state line. Some of the cars caught fire, releasing toxic fumes into the air, streams, and eventually the Ohio River. Days later, the slow release of vinyl chloride from five tanker cars sent a plume of black smoke in the air.

Thursday now marks six months since the derailment impacted thousands of lives throughout the community. Jami Wallace recalls the night well, and says she only had one choice.

"Get out of here, grab the baby, and go," she said.

According to Wallace, water from the Sulphur Run creek leaked into her home. She has since moved, and has helped form the Unity Council for the EP Train Derailment.

For Wallace, her 3-year-old daughter was the driving force behind her leaving.

"I refused to take my daughter into a home that I knew was contaminated," she declared.

Wallace has a law degree and a master's in public administration, and she and the Unity Council just returned from Capitol Hill. Their goal?

"Our major focus is getting President Biden to sign off on the [disaster] declaration that our governor signed," she answered.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw says he's been on the Hill, too, and continues to stress he and the railroad will not abandon East Palestine.

"You see me on Capitol Hill engaging with our elected officials on both sides of the aisles advancing railway safety legislation," Shaw said in an interview with 3News. "I'm really proud of our response so far. We've removed 80,000 tons of soil off site, over 26 million gallons of water. We've committed over $64 million into the community, and there's more work to be done."

But resident Kari Smith says "the trust issue is not very strong," particularly when it comes to Norfolk Southern. However, she doesn't want to leave East Palestine, since her kids go to school here, she has family here, and she just opened her own business on Market Street two weeks ago.

"You can either choose to be a victim or a survivor," Smith declared.

So where do things stand six months later? Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office shared a lengthy update on multiple topics connected to the derailment, which you can read in full below... 

Ohio EPA Monitoring and Cleanup

Ohio EPA oversees ongoing monitoring of the village drinking water sources, ensuring the health and safety of East Palestine residents. Ohio EPA and the Village Municipal Water System continue to collect 25 rounds of samples weekly from the village wells, drinking water treatment plant, and sentinel monitoring wells located between the derailment site and the wellfield. Drinking water sampling results from the East Palestine Municipal Water System show no indication of contaminants associated with the derailment.

The Ohio EPA has been assisting the Village to expedite the installation of carbon filtration treatment, providing an additional layer of safety and long-term resilience for the drinking water supply.

Under Ohio EPA oversight, Norfolk Southern contractors have completed the following excavation & remediation work:

  • Removal and disposal of 88,500 tons of hazardous and solid waste.
  • More than 1,900 confirmation soil samples, ensuring complete removal of contamination.
  • Collection and disposal of more than 28 million gallons of surface and groundwater categorized as hazardous waste.

Ohio EPA continues to evaluate water quality in the local streams through a network, including more than 20 monitoring stations that are reviewed daily, beginning at the site of the derailment all the way down to the Ohio River.

Currently, detections of compounds associated with the derailment are infrequent and generally limited to Sulphur Run. As clean-up activities progress, detections of chemicals in the spill, such as acrylates and vinyl chloride, have become infrequent. To address low levels of continuing contamination, Sulphur Run continues to be mitigated with sediment washing.

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East Palestine Emergency Support Program Application Now Available

The Ohio Department of Development today announced eligible businesses can now access the application for the East Palestine Emergency Support Program.

The program can provide 0% interest, forgivable loans to businesses to assist with ongoing expenses and recovery efforts associated with the train derailment. For-profit and nonprofit Ohio businesses located within a two-mile radius of East Palestine that were operational on or prior to December 1, 2022, are eligible to apply for loans ranging from $10,000 to $1 million. In total, $5 million in loans will be available. Funds will be eligible for forgiveness if used for payroll, employee benefits, rent or mortgage payments, utility expenses, worker protections related to the train derailment, and inventory replacement expenses associated with the train derailment.

Businesses can now view, complete, and save their application; official submission of applications will begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 24. Funding through the program will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

The East Palestine Emergency Support Program was created in partnership with the Ohio General Assembly with funds from the Controlling Board Emergency Purposes/Contingencies Fund.

Additional details on the program are available at development.ohio.gov/eastpalestine.

Applicants are encouraged to work with local partners for assistance on completing the application: the Columbiana County Port Authority, Small Business Development Center at Kent State Tuscarawas, and Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University. Partner contact information can be found on the program webpage.

Crop Conditions

The crops in the East Palestine area are in good condition, according to Columbiana County reports, six months following the train derailment.

Plant tissue sampling results released in May by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences showed no contamination of semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) related to the train derailment.

Analysis of scientific data by OSU shows plant materials from agricultural sites in the East Palestine area were not contaminated with SVOCs associated with the train derailment.

Using U.S. EPA-approved methods, ODA’s plant health inspectors collected plant tissue samples from 16 agricultural areas in Columbiana County in April. All samples -- including winter wheat, pasture grasses, malting barley, and forage covers -- were taken within a five-mile radius of the train derailment site. Samples collected and tested closest to the derailment site (inner radius) were considered the most likely for potential contamination, and plant tissue samples collected farther from the derailment site (background radius) were tested to serve as a baseline comparison. OSU’s analysis did not find reportable levels of SVOCs in the inner or background radius zones attributable to the train derailment.

All samples were analyzed for the same 26 selected SVOCs the U.S. EPA had been testing for in soil samples. OSU scientists used an EPA-approved method (8270e) routinely used to identify and quantify SVOCs in materials. Corn and soybean crops will be harvested in late August and into September.

Wildlife Monitoring

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been monitoring the local waterways since the train derailment. An ODNR investigation found that 43,701 wild animals were killed by the event. That includes small fish, crayfish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates. The number of wildlife killed totals more than $15,000 in wildlife restitution. Since that investigation, ODNR has continued to monitor the rivers and streams for any long-term consequences on aquatic wildlife species and has not discovered any significant impacts.

East Liverpool Hospital Clinic Update

The East Liverpool Hospital East Palestine Health Clinic offers traditional comprehensive primary care, including treatment, prescriptions, lab testing, and consultation with specialists where appropriate. Physicians, registered nurses, and mental health specialists are on hand to provide services. Referrals are made if needed.

Through July 20, the East Liverpool Hospital Clinic had seen more than 600 area residents. Additionally, 71 first responders have visited the clinic to receive the same care. The clinic not only offers ongoing care for the community, but a way to provide long-term monitoring and health surveillance on the population that could lead to further public health actions.

The clinic is free for those without insurance coverage. The Ohio Department of Health has provided technical and financial support.

Private Well Testing

The Ohio Department of Health, working with the Columbiana County Health District, has received verified laboratory results from 667 samples from private water systems as of Tuesday afternoon. Of those, 565 showed no detectable contaminants. One hundred samples have had trace detections at levels below safe drinking-water standards. There is no evidence that these trace detections are linked to the train derailment.

Since the sampling program began, two wells have exceeded safe standards: One for disinfection byproducts and one for dinitrotoluene, which is not suspected to be related to the derailment. Both wells were later re-sampled and had no detections.

Ongoing Wellness and Resilience Efforts

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Ohio MHAS) has applied for an $879,509 Intermediate SAMHSA Emergency Response Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support ongoing community wellness and resilience efforts. If awarded, this additional grant would bring the total SERG funding award for East Palestine and surrounding communities to $1,088,911. In March, SAMHSA awarded $209,402 to help with immediate behavioral health care needs following the derailment.

The new funding will:

  • Support the ongoing behavioral health needs of the community related to the initial incident and subsequent traumatic experiences.
  • Minimize the long-term impacts and foster resilience in the community.
  • Expand and enhance the capacity of the local crisis response system to ensure adequate and effective intervention in situations of crisis.
  • Support training, equipment, and activities that will take place at Camp Braveheart -- a retreat for local first responders that will offer adventure therapy and camping alongside traditional counseling/resiliency therapies to help area first responders heal from trauma.
  • Support a certified peer supporter for the East Palestine Police Department.
  • Further expand a community garden run by Threshold Residential Services for individuals with disabilities and open it to the entire East Palestine Community.

Services will be offered to all East Palestine residents. The Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board will also coordinate targeted outreach for older adults, youth, veterans, racial/ethnic minority groups, and community members with serious mental illness diagnoses and/or substance use disorders. Local officials anticipate the intermediate grant would serve between 3,000 and 4,200 residents over the 12-month grant period.

Permanent East Palestine Community Resiliency Center

Norfolk Southern provided funding to the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board to purchase a former doctor’s office located at 50410 State Route 14 in Unity Township that will be transformed into a permanent Community Resiliency Center. The facility, which is currently undergoing a series of improvements -- including a new roof and interior renovations -- will provide an array of outpatient mental health and substance use disorder services supported by the federal grant funding. The center will offer residents traditional counseling, support groups and 12-Step meetings, and non-traditional programming, such as trauma-focused yoga classes, creative arts, and animal therapy. While the Resiliency center is under renovation, services will be provided in other locations in the community. The addition of this center will help make behavioral health services more accessible and closer to home for residents in need of mental health or substance use disorder care. Local officials hope to complete renovations and open the facility to residents in November.

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