Currently — February 15th, 2023

What you need to know, currently.

Health concerns are heightening in East Palestine, Ohio after about 50 derailed train cars released toxic fumes last week.

On Feb. 3, the cars of a Norfolk Southern train went off track in Ohio, resulting in a days-long fire, evacuation orders for residents on both sides of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, and a federal investigation. Weary of an explosion, crews conducted a “controlled release” of the chemicals, causing a menacing plume of black smoke on Monday, Feb. 6.

As of Feb. 10, 20 of the derailed cars were reported to contain hazardous chemicals, including butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, and vinyl chloride—a flammable gas, which can cause drowsiness, loss of coordination, disorientation, and headache during short-term exposure, and an increase in one’s risk of liver damage or liver cancer during long-term or routine exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And though the evacuation orders were lifted Wednesday, the danger persists, as there’s been a growing number of reports about people experiencing a burning sensation in their eyes, animals getting sick, and a pungent order lingering in the town.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring the air quality, said it didn’t detect "any levels of concern" in East Palestine as of Sunday, Feb. 12.

The agency also said that vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride have not been detected in the 291 homes that have been screened as of Feb. 13. There are 181 homes left to be evaluated in the voluntary indoor air screening program.

Precautionary measures were taken in the wider region, especially in states using water from the Ohio River. There have been no reports of injuries or deaths from the derailment, but The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the chemical spill had killed about 3,500 small fish across 7.5 miles of streams as of last week and residents continue to share images of other dead animals on social media. The arrest of a reporter during a news conference about the derailment has led to a backlash of law enforcement’s lukewarm response.

Many business owners and residents have filed lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, citing negligence and demanding court-supervised medical screenings for illnesses that may be a result of exposure to the chemicals.

On Feb. 14, Norfolk Southern said it had provided more than $1.2 million in reimbursements and cash advances to families to help cover evacuation costs, shelter, travel, food, and other items. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is working on a two-stage cleanup, including the removal of materials from the site followed by a remediation plan. However, there is no telling when things will return to normal.

—Aarohi Sheth

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