Prove your humanity

In the weeks after the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February, residents and first responders reported increased headaches, coughs, and anxiety. 

Numerous industrial chemicals onboard escaped into the air, water, and soil,  including vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, which was intentionally released and burned from five train cars.

Now, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is convening a committee of experts in public health, epidemiology, and emergency response to understand the health questions that remain. 

The committee will meet for a series of online discussions over the next couple of weeks to see if there are questions about longer-term health consequences.

“Hopefully, the workshop will frame that, to really have a conversation about the impacts of the train derailment and what future research might be needed,” said committee chair Kristen Malecki, Director for Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

The schedule for the workshops:

  • Tuesday, October 17: public health and healthcare services
  • Wednesday, October 18: pediatric issues 
  • Thursday, October 19: mental health concerns
  • Wednesday, October 26: general session to hear from the public 

All sessions will be held online from 6:00 pm-7:00 pm EST.

The committee will convene again on November 6 and 7 to discuss what members learned in the October sessions and which research projects could answer outstanding questions.

Malecki said the intention of the committee is not to investigate the public health response to the derailment but “…to generate ideas for moving forward, for really addressing the human health and well-being,” she said. 

Preparation can be done to protect public health before any future disasters, according to committee member Maureen Lichtveld, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. She worked on disaster response to the World Trade Center attack and after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

We need to have working relationships and engagement with the community before disaster happens,Lichtveld said.  “So that we can work with communities to have a response ready and have a transdisciplinary team not only of emergency responders, but of particularly public health professionals, environmental health professionals.” She said that also includes mental health specialists. 

Other committee members are specialists in emergency medicine, toxicologists, and the local community of the East Palestine area.

10/16/23: This story has been updated to reflect the revised workshop schedule. 

Eight months after the East Palestine derailment, some residents wonder if they’ll ever go home