Prove your humanity

This story comes from IdeaStream Public Media.

Columbiana County is receiving $2 million to sample private wells more than a year after the train derailment in East Palestine, according to Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office. The funding, passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024, will ensure drinking water is safe in East Palestine and other communities downstream from the derailment site.

On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, spilling toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen vinyl chloride, into the environment.

East Palestine: One Year Later

Since then, residents have been demanding long term testing on drinking water, in addition to immediate and long-term healthcare for residents, long term medical monitoring and comprehensive indoor air testing. The U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies have maintained that the air and water in East Palestine are safe.

“The Columbiana County Health District is extremely grateful for this funding opportunity to expand the work we have been doing alongside our local, state and federal partners to ensure the families and businesses of the East Palestine area have safe drinking water,” Columbiana County Health District Commissioner Wesley Vins said in a statement.

The Columbiana County General Health District will use the $2 million to sample 250 residential wells using an independent laboratory and local agency staff, according to Brown’s office, a response to residents’ calls for testing independent of Norfolk Southern or its contractors.

“It’s great that they’re taking care of our future needs,” Jami Wallace with the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment said, “but we have needs right now that are unmet.”

Trust is low in EPA and Norfolk Southern environmental testing, she added.

“The EPA has basically said there was nothing in our wells as of when they tested but that they didn’t know when it would be there,” Wallace said, “so it seems like even the EPA thinks that it’s inevitable.”

When asked about this statement, a U.S. EPA spokesperson said repeated testing of private wells in Ohio and Pennsylvania, groundwater wells at or near the derailment site and the East Palestine municipal water system have not shown any impact related to the derailment.

“As an added layer of community safety, EPA is working with Ohio EPA to develop a long-term program to ensure that groundwater and drinking water continue to be monitored for years to come,” the spokesperson said.

More than 200 East Palestine residents and environmental activists signed a letter in February urging the federal government to establish long-term testing on drinking water, among other demands. The letter, addressed to President Joe Biden and U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan, urged them to take further action to ensure the safety of the community ahead of Biden’s first visit on Feb. 16, more than a year after the derailment.

“The biggest issue is that they let this contamination spread,” Wallace said.

Since the derailment and vent and burn of vinyl chloride in five derailed tanker cars, residents have complained of health symptoms they say are related to the accident. Biden announced six National Institutes of Health grants to study the short and long-term impacts of the derailment during his visit. Residents concerned about their health say their doctors don’t know how to treat the mix of toxic chemicals they were exposed to.

“It seems like they’re doing all this stuff for the future,” Wallace said, “but no one’s addressing the concerns that we have now.”