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A train carrying toxic materials derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, causing a fire and plume of smoke, forcing thousands of community residents to evacuate. A lack of coverage and reporting on this derailment leaves information to be uncovered, and questions to be answered. The city is holding a town meeting Feb. 15 evening to address concerns and inform their residents of any new details.

General Facts

This train, operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad, was comprised of three locomotives and 150 freight cars. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported 38 cars left the tracks, 20 of which were carrying dangerous, hazardous materials. This has caused concern about potential air, soil and water pollution. Exposure to these materials’ toxic fumes or through polluted drinking water can cause simpler side effects such as nausea and headaches but could be of more concern with risks including cancers. The long-term health risks for the residents, pets and livestock are unknown.

The pollution has leaked into the Ohio River. The effect on surrounding areas that utilize water from the river is unknown. During a press conference, Ohio governor Mike DeWine mentioned the pollution did not pose a threat to the drinking water but has encouraged residents to use bottled water. On Feb. 8, DeWine said evacuated residents could return home.

Crews have been cleaning the area and disposing of any other hazardous material as possible, while monitoring chemical levels. As of Feb. 13, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) screened the air inside 290 East Palestine homes, but 181 homes are awaiting screenings of these chemicals.

Pete Buttigieg’s Reaction

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did not mention anything about the derailment or explosion during his Feb. 12, Monday National Association of Counties Conference panel. Buttigieg made his first public statement on the train’s derailment on Feb. 13, 10 days after the derailment, mentioning he was concerned about the impacts and effects on families in and near East Palestine.

Much is Left Unknown

The details about the amounts of chemicals or cargo aboard the train has not yet been made public. The timing for how long the contamination of the water will last is unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) expects its preliminary report from the investigation into the mechanical cause of derailment in two weeks.

Many more details are still needed to have a full story on the derailment. While the effects of this explosion and pollution are of concern for the future, Tony Katz believes the delayed sharing and reporting of this information should be the biggest concern. Tony Katz goes on to say,

“I do not believe we are getting a full story. Yes, I am concerned for those people. I’m concerned for people in all those areas. I’m mostly concerned for a country that doesn’t actively share what’s going on.”

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