Residents of western Pennsylvania living near the Ohio border say they were left out of recovery efforts after the Norfolk Southern train derailed on February 3 in neighboring East Palestine, Ohio .
The accident led to evacuations and fears of air, water and soil contamination, particularly after a chemical was deliberately released and burned to prevent an explosion.
On Tuesday, Federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan returned to eastern Palestine to visit the site of the spill and told NBC News the agency is “here to stay. and we won’t leave until the job is done.”
But Pennsylvania residents say they are frustrated with the lack of information about the enduring risks of the disaster and are demanding more transparency from state and federal leaders, who they say are focusing too narrowly on recovery efforts in a 2-mile radius surrounding the derailment, a designation established by the EPA.
“Nobody is doing anything to help us,” said Patty Barber, who lives in Darlington, Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the spill site. “Pennsylvania is left out.”
State officials said they sympathize with residents’ concerns and are coordinating the response efforts of multiple agencies.
Gov. Josh Shapiro last week met with Darlington residents who had their water tested through the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The department also worked closely with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and state health departments to monitor developments in eastern Palestine.
On Monday, Shapiro announced the opening of a health clinic in Beaver and Lawrence counties that closely resembles one created for residents of eastern Palestine. The state Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture will be present at the clinic to help community members sign up for free water tests and to provide advice on food safety and animal, according to the governor’s office.
On Monday, the EPA said, municipal water in eastern Palestine was safe to drink. Indoor air quality tests of more than 550 homes have not exceeded safety standards, and air quality in the community remains “normal”, the EPA said.
But residents who live outside the immediate area say crucial information is hard to come by, even as people complain of various ailments including bronchitis, headaches and other symptoms associated with exposure to the chemical products.
Several thousand fish died and community members spoke of finding sick pets and wild animals.
“Not to take anything away from the people of eastern Palestine – they had the worst – but that cloud didn’t stay there,” said Sherry Strozza, who lives about 3 miles away in the county of Lawrence, Pennsylvania.
Strozza said she has been suffering from headaches since the chemical spill and is worried about the safety of her dog and three horses. A yellow-white residue now coats parts of its soil, which Strozza has been unable to test despite repeated appeals to state and federal environmental agencies and local testing companies.
“I called DEP. I called EPA. They keep telling me I’m out of range of the testing area,” she said. “I would feel more comfortable if I could have my soil tested, but I don’t know how.”
A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson said the agency was testing private wells within a 2-mile radius of the derailment site and developing its soil sampling plan. It intends to “aggressively pursue recovery of these costs from Norfolk Southern,” department spokesman Jamar Thrasher said in a statement.
He encouraged residents like Strozza, who live outside the 2-mile limit, to contact the department directly to request testing.
Authorities began testing private wells on February 21, and public providers were tested a week earlier. The ministry said it had not detected any groundwater contamination to date.
The state finished collecting samples from 13 of 16 known residential wells within a 1-mile radius of the derailment site on Wednesday and is working to schedule more tests in the coming days.
The results of the first round of tests are expected this week.
“If we discover contamination related to the train derailment, we will respond appropriately to protect public health and address the contamination,” Thrasher said. “We will stay in communities like Beaver County for as long as it takes to assure Pennsylvanians that their air, water and environment are safe.”
Leah Renee Markovitz, who lives 25 miles from eastern Palestine in Clinton, Pennsylvania, said her biggest concern is the health of her children, who have been experiencing cold symptoms in recent weeks and contaminated water that seeped into his well.
“Wherever the wind blew that day [of the derailment]all of these people are an afterthought,” she said.
Many of his concerns were highlighted Feb. 17 during a five-hour Pennsylvania state Senate committee hearing. Eight community members shared their worries and frustrations, with most saying they felt like Pennsylvania had been abandoned.
Lawrence County resident Sheila Stiegler, who lives 16 miles from where the train derailed, told lawmakers she was angry and heartbroken by what she calls the state’s slow response. She described her family as modern-day farmers who grow their own food and buy what they cannot grow from local farmers. She now worries about the long-term effects of the derailment on her food and her family.
“We faced uncertainty and felt abandoned and alone,” she said.
In Darlington, Barber said she still doesn’t know if her home is safe. She and her family didn’t see any birds flying over their rural home for about a week after the train derailed, and the deer that normally drink from its ponds still haven’t returned, she said. declared. The creek where his family likes to swim is filled with dead fish.
“Is my house safe? I don’t know,” she said. “That’s where I grew up. Where else would I go?
Both Strozza and Barber would like to have their properties tested for toxic chemicals, but neither has been able to secure appointments through local businesses or state agencies. Strozza said she would feel more comfortable if her home could be cleaned “top to bottom,” and Barber would like it to be tested periodically in the months or even years to come.
“I live less than a mile from Ground Zero. My brother is a 7 minute drive away,” she said. “Our whole way of life has been compromised, and no one seems to understand that.”