People living in East Palestine, Ohio, say they are suffering vision impairment, shortness of breath, sore throats and other symptoms after testing positive for cancer-causing toxins more than two months after the Norfolk Southern toxic train derailment.
“I’m now on an inhaler that I’ve never had in my life,” Shelby Walker, who has lived in East Palestine for 48 years, told FOX Business.
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Walker lives adjacent to the derailment site. Parts of the train lie feet away from her kids’ toys in the backyard.
“It looks like a war zone out here,” Walker said. “When my yard floods, it’s bubbling. I know my yard is not safe.”
A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed on Feb. 3 after a wheel bearing overheated, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. In total, 38 train cars derailed, 11 of which contained hazardous materials.
On Feb. 6, authorities ordered a controlled release of the toxic chemicals to prevent the train cars from exploding. Residents near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line were told to evacuate as responders purposely burned toxic chemicals.
Two days later, authorities said air and water tests showed it was safe for residents to return home. But this announcement surprised Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University.
“Many statements by government agencies were being made about safety. ‘The air is safe, the water safe, your homes are safe.’ But they weren’t actually sharing a lot of the data,” Whelton told FOX Business. “And that raised a flag for us.”
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Whelton is leading a team of 20 faculty, staff and students to independently test the water and soil in East Palestine. They have visited the site four times during February and March and collected more than 300 samples, he said.
“When we went there, we were shocked at the scale of contamination that was still flowing around the creeks, that it wasn’t all contained,” Whelton said.
He testified before the U.S. Senate, accusing government agencies of failing to test for carcinogenic chemicals.
“There were unaddressed acute health risks in the community that were not being tested for,” Whelton said.
Linda Murphy, who has lived in East Palestine for 25 years, tested positive for vinyl chloride on March 22. She lives 2.8 miles from the crash site.
“The nurse handed me the results, and she just looked at me, and she said, ‘I’m really sorry,'” Murphy told FOX Business.
Five of the derailed train cars carried vinyl chloride, a chemical used in a variety of plastic products that is associated with an increased risk of brain, lung and liver cancer, as well as lymphoma and leukemia, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“I hope Norfolk gets their pockets out and builds us a cancer center here,” Murphy said.
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Walker was one of the first residents in town to receive a vinyl chloride test. Walker said she and her husband both tested positive for vinyl chloride but that her doctors are still researching the full scope of what the test results mean.
“It’s like now we’re like science experiments to them because they don’t know,” Walker said.
Walker said she still feels sick more than two months after the toxic train wreck, suffering a recent bout of temporary blindness.
“I went like three days and I couldn’t hardly see anything,” she said. “I had to call off work. It was horrible. This has just been recently, probably within the last three to four weeks.”
Whelton said he became sick after testing chemicals on-site and suffered headaches for two days. Seven of the 15 CDC investigators briefly fell ill in early March after looking into health impacts in East Palestine, CNN reported.
At least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments since 2015 have involved chemical spills, according to Ohio officials. Another Norfolk Southern train derailed Saturday in Jasper, Alabama, hospitalizing two crew members.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw told lawmakers in a hearing last month that the company will provide long-term financial support to the community, including support for potential long-term health issues and property value impacts.
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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a federal lawsuit against Norfolk Southern last month, saying the disaster was “entirely avoidable.” The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency later filed a separate suit over environmental damage.
In response to the Ohio lawsuit, Norfolk Southern said in a statement on March 14, “We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.”
Murphy said the hardest part about the aftermath is the lack of answers.
“As far as testing and guidance goes, we’re just not getting the answers. Now we’re going on month 2. The answer is still not there,” Murphy said. “And we’re getting lies. We’re getting lies that everything is OK.”
She said the EPA has given her inconsistent information.
“We have a flier from the EPA that says that results from the sampling to date, this is the soil sampling, have not shown any cause for concern,” Murphy said. “What was interesting was when this was given to us, they told us they didn’t have the soil samples back yet.”
A spokesperson for the EPA did not address Murphy’s claim that she received contradictory information but reiterated to FOX Business that preliminary samples were not concerning and that “the public will be informed” if anything changes.
Whelton is calling for officials to test the water in the town for years to come.
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“There should be testing for years, long-term monitoring in terms of drinking water wells and the creeks,” Whelton said. “There are some longer-term issues here that need to be addressed that officials haven’t yet put on the radar.”
Walker and Murphy say they are looking to move if the rail company buys their property.
“I hope they come and get us out of here soon. I hope they offer to buy us out because we can’t stay here much longer, we just can’t,” Walker said. “It’s affecting our health. It’s there. We have the proof that it is there. And they need to step up.”