Ohio Senators Ask Federal Agencies to Monitor Health of East Palestine Residents over Long Term

U.S. Senators J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) this week sent a letter to heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging long-term health monitoring of East Palestine, Ohio residents. 

Vance and Brown asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to guarantee baseline medical testing for those living near the February 3 train derailment site. The rail company Norfolk Southern followed the incident with what the company termed a “controlled burn” of five cars containing vinyl chloride. 

While the EPA and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) persist in expressing confidence in the safety of the region’s air and water quality, many Ohioans and Pennsylvanians have reported observing harmful health and environmental impacts. And, as The Ohio Star reported on Tuesday, forestry workers in Ohio have observed such animals as deer and elk dying at strikingly high rates. 

In their letter, the senators mentioned fumes remaining palpable in homes and dead fish seen in nearby rivers as just some anecdotal evidence that the derailment’s handling has left hundreds of people less safe. Residents, they say, have expressed concern about both acute and chronic effects of contamination. 

“In the wake of this month’s train derailment in East Palestine, our constituents continue to worry about the disaster’s impacts on their health and the health of their family members,” the senators wrote. “Despite reassurances from local, state, and federal agencies that the air and drinking water are safe, their anxiety persists…. We urge you to work with your colleagues across the federal government to allocate resources and expertise to begin the surveys and assessments needed to establish a medical baseline for the community….”

In support of their request for a health survey of potentially affected individuals, Vance and Brown cite the pronouncements of Duke University School of Medicine Professor Kyle Walsh and University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Professor Glenn Talaska. The professors commented that the immediate collection of data samples from East Palestine residents who submit to that collection is needed to gauge health effects from chemical exposure over time accurately. The senators observed that local doctors largely lack the capabilities to do the kind of testing that is necessary.

Another concern they raised in the letter was that Norfolk Southern contractors had visited many households near the derailment site to persuade residents to sign indemnification papers. This fact, they wrote, means getting many people to voluntarily submit to a health survey will not be a simple process. Nonetheless, they stated, doing so will be essential.

“The residents of East Palestine and the surrounding community deserve to know if their health has been compromised by this disaster now and for years to come,” Vance and Brown wrote. “Therefore, we urge you to work with your colleagues across the federal government to allocate the resources and expertise needed to begin the surveys and assessment needed to establish a medical baseline for the community.”

Lawmakers in Ohio and Pennsylvania have continued to push for answers regarding the full effects of the chemical burn. At a Pennsylvania Senate hearing last week, residents of Beaver and Lawrence counties testified to livestock deaths as well as residents developing symptoms of nasal congestion and sore throats over the last month. And the Ohio Senate’s Special Committee on Rail Safety is preparing for its hearing on Wednesday to question government staffers on the causes of and responses to the derailment. DeWine and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Anne Vogel will reportedly attend the event. 

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are working to add provisions to the state budget that some feel could make freight movement safer, including maintaining crews of at least two people on every train.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Ohio Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “J.D. Vance” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo “Sherrod Brown” by U.S. Senate Photographic Services. Background Photo “East Palestine, Ohio” by Doug Kerr. CC BY-SA 2.0.


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