An Ohio train derailment prompted officials to conduct a “controlled release” of chemicals onboard.
A week later, local streams are full of dead fish and chickens found dead in their coop.
Officials have said well water in the region is safe for consumption, but residents aren’t sure.
Days after a catastrophic train derailment prompted officials to conduct a “controlled release” of the toxic chemicals onboard, animals are dying at alarming rates in East Palestine, Ohio.
A woman in North Lima, roughly 11 miles away from the village of East Palestine, where the crash occurred, checked on her chicken coop on February 7 only to find her five hens and rooster laying lifeless, with no sign of a predator entering their enclosure .
“I’m beyond upset and quite panicked, ’cause this, they may be just chickens, but they’re family,” Amanda Breshears told local news outlet ABC27 WHTM.
Although local officials have indicated drinking water in the region is safe to drink, CBS News reported, and the Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring air quality and has indicated there is no reason for concern, Breshears and other Ohio residents aren’t convinced.
“My video camera footage shows my chickens were perfectly fine before they started this burn, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died,” Breshears said. “If it can do this to chickens in one night, imagine what it will do to us in 20 years.”
Onboard the train — which derailed in a fiery crash on February 3 — were highly flammable hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, used to create a polymer that forms a popular plastic. Worried that the materials could explode, sending deadly shrapnel flying up to a mile through the air, officials conducted a “controlled release” of the chemicals and burned them, sending a toxic cloud of black smoke into the air.
Rail crews released the chemical by drilling a small hole into the tank car, an official with the railroad told local WKYC outlet.
“This will allow the material to come out of the tank car,” Scott Deutsch, a Norfolk Southern Railroad official, said on Monday, prior to the fire, according to WKYC. “It will go into a pit and trench that we have dug and set up for this operation. Inside that trench will be flares lining that trench that will then light off the material.”
Representatives from the East Palestine village council and the Ohio Governor’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Breshears’ chickens weren’t the only fatalities locals were attributing to the burn. Taylor Holzer, an East Palestine resident who rescues foxes, told Newsweek all four of his animals are experiencing signs of chemical exposure. One rescue fox had such severe symptoms it died before it could receive treatment.
“He went downhill very fast,” Holzer said, adding that the fox had symptoms including diarrhea and breathing issues. “He crashed so fast and unexpectedly. He wasn’t able to blink or function properly as he died in my arms.”
In addition to the domesticated animals suffering from the toxin exposure, locals have reported seeing streams full of dead fish in recent days. An official with the Ohio EPA confirmed toxic material had entered the waterways after the burn and killed fish but reiterated that drinking water is safe and air contaminant levels are not currently cause for concern, CBS News reported.
Kurt Rhoads, an environmental engineer and associate professor at Care Western Reserve University, told local news outlet Cleveland 19 that the impact of the chemicals will be measured for years to come as they seep into the groundwater and possible impact wells used for drinking.
“If I try to make a scale of things you would not want to have in a derailed, toppled-over rail car that’s leaking and burning this is also near the top of that list,” Rhodes said. “I can think of some worse things but I would put it at a seven or an eight.”
While the animal deaths initially alarmed residents, human health problems are also beginning to appear, even among residents who initially evacuated the area.
Chelsea Simpson, who lives near the site of the derailment, told The New Republic she has had a sore throat since the burn, and her 8-month-old baby has suffered respiratory issues that are being treated with a steroid. Simpson said her eyes were bloodshot and burning after visiting her home for just 10 minutes a few days ago, and she has yet to return.
“Re-entry air screenings are underway,” read a Monday statement by the EPA sent to Insider. “As of yesterday evening, 291 homes have been screened. To date, no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride have been identified for the completed screened homes.”
There are 181 homes in the area that have yet to be screened. It remains unclear whether the burn will have long-term effects on the environment or residents of the region, and residents are concerned over the limited information released so far.
“It kinda sucks we’re all getting the majority of our information from fellow residents on Facebook,” East Palestine local Liz Smith told The New Republic. “So it’s hard to tell what’s true or not.”
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