April 13. 2024. 6:37

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Ohio train derailment: Angry residents seek answers on toxic spill

Hundreds of angry residents of the Ohio town where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals packed into a high school gym on Wednesday, seeking answers to what health dangers they face.

The Norfolk Southern Railroad-operated train’s derailment on February 3rd caused a fire that sent a cloud of smoke over East Palestine. Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate.

After railroad crews drained and burned off a toxic chemical from five tanker cars, residents were allowed to return to their homes on February 8th.

Norfolk Southern officials did not attend the meeting, saying they feared violence.

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“After consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Much remains unknown of the dangers posed to residents by the toxins that spilled, experts said. Many in the area have complained of headaches and irritated eyes, and noted that chickens, fish and other wildlife have died off.

Despite that, state health officials have insisted to residents that East Palestine is a safe place to be.

East Palestine mayor Trent Conaway said at Wednesday’s town hall that he wanted to help provide some reassurance for the 4,700 citizens of his town, and hold to account those responsible for the train derailment.

“We need our citizens to feel safe in their own homes,” Mr Conaway said as the meeting began. “I need help. I’m not ready for this. But I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere.”

Mr Conaway, speaking through a bull horn as he paced around the gym floor, said Norfolk Southern was working closely with him: “They screwed up our town, they’re going to fix it.”

Ohio state officials have said that a plume of pollution in the Ohio River is moving at one mile per hour. But they say cities in the plume’s path can turn off their drinking water intakes as it floats by.

They also said that drinking water tests have not raised concerns and normal water treatment would remove any small amounts of contaminants that may exist.

Toxicologist Gerald Poje said it could take months or years before the scale of the damage is fully known.

“This is a terrible tragedy in Ohio, it’s so painful to see so many lives put at risk. There is a long challenge ahead of everybody into how to discern risks that are unknown at this moment in time.”

The train of three locomotives and 150 freight cars was headed from Illinois to Pennsylvania when it derailed. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said 20 of the cars were carrying hazardous materials, including 10 that derailed.

The NTSB said 38 cars in total left the tracks and the ensuing fire damaged an additional 12. The NTSB has not commented on the derailment’s cause.

Railroad union officials have said they have been warning that such an incident could happen because railroad cost-cutting harmed safety measures.

But Norfolk Southern said its record has been “trending safer.” – Reuters