Ohio’s governor addressed concerns of farmers near the site of a Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred February 3. Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) acknowledged he is not an expert in either toxic chemicals or agriculture but promised to have experts in their fields to test water, air and soil heading into the planting season.
One quarter of the ill-fated train’s 151 cars derailed, with eleven of the derailed cars containing hazardous material, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ohio officials ordered hundreds of nearby residents to evacuate their homes in East Palestine February 4 because toxic chemicals were released in the accident. The following day, authorities warned nearby residents who had not evacuated to leave in case the derailed cars exploded.
Norfolk Southern railroad officials reportedly decided to conduct a controlled burn of chemicals in five cars that derailed in the tiny town to avoid an explosion affecting all cars. Contents of five toxic material cars were released into newly-dug trenches and subsequently set on fire.
The controlled release and burn of vinyl chloride leaked into newly dug trenches was conducted at 3:30 p.m. February 6. The burning vinyl chloride sent billowing black smoke high into the previously pristine sky.
Two days later, the state’s evacuation order was lifted. The federal government sent representatives from an alphabet soup of agencies, led by the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal officials reportedly conducted widespread testing of ambient air and drinking water in about 500 East Palestine homes.
No fatalities have been reported from the derailment, chemicals leaked or the controlled burn conducted by the railroad.
There has been anecdotal evidence about increased incidences of breathing issues or rashes, which residents worry are signs of chemical contamination related to the train wreck.
“I have a part ownership in a farm, so I’m concerned about that,” said East Palestine resident Eloise Harmon, according to a WHIO report. “The soil at the farm, Can we plant? Can we not plant? Will anybody buy it, if we do plant?”
The state’s governor responded to questions about ensuring safety of resident, livestock and soil near the derailment site.
“There’s going to be soil testing,” DeWine reassured residents. “Anybody want soil testing, that’s going to be provided. So it’s very important, the testing of the water continues, the testing of air continues. We’re going to see the testing of the soil as well. So I understand people’s concerns. I think we see that.”
“But, you know, if they’re seeing anything, the growth of the livestock, you know, part of agriculture obviously can become involved in that,” DeWine continued. We can get the state veterinary involved in that.”
The Ohio Republican acknowledged the concerns of farmers about possible harm to their families, land and animals.
“I’m not the expert,” he explained, adding, “we’re going to bring in the experts. We’ll put them together with the farmers.” DeWine noted the experts would come from various Ohio universities, according to the WHIO report.
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