East Palestine, Ohio – Doug Brayshaw was sitting on his porch when a huge plume of black smoke rose from the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment, like a scene from a horror movie.
“It was like a storm, like a big storm coming,” said Brayshaw, a truck driver who lives less than 3 miles from the site where Norfolk Southern dumped the hazardous chemicals to avoid the risk of an explosion. chose to burn it.
Ever since then, Brayshaw, 63, has worried about whether the water from his well is safe. After nearly 15 days, officials finally arrived at his home to test him on Tuesday, but he will have to wait more before he gets a response.
He said he was told it could take up to 10 days for the results to come back.
“We’re afraid to take a bath,” said Breshaw, who has been cooking with bottled water he picks up from a railroad company aid station set up at a local church. “I won’t even let my dog drink water from my well right now because I’m worried.”
Residents of East Palestine are worried after a 150-car Norfolk Southern train derailed on 3 February. The company began the controlled combustion of vinyl chloride from five rail cars on 6 February.
More than two weeks later, many East Palestine residents said they were gripped by fear and anxiety despite assurances by government officials that the air and drinking water were safe.
Mothers have taken to social media to seek advice on how to protect their homes. Some people describe wiping down everything in their homes with dish soap, throwing away opened food, and hunting online for the best air purifier, even though they know such measures may be futile.
“Mentally, I’m exhausted,” said Ashley Flor, 31, one of the women who documented her struggles on a Facebook group for East Palestine residents.
In some cases, the assistance provided by Norfolk Southern has raised more questions for residents. The company says it has distributed more than 100 air purifiers to residents, but according to experts, common consumer air purifiers are ineffective against compounds such as vinyl chloride.
Jenna Caton, 31, stayed in a hotel for 10 days until Norfolk Southern confirmed her home’s air had been tested.
When a local company announced that it had “acquired the contract for house cleaning from Norfolk Southern” for residents living within the evacuation zone, he took advantage of the opportunity and signed up for what he thought That the house will be cleaned.
What he got was “fogging”. She said a man from the cleaning company knocked on the door, didn’t take off her shoes, and then began spraying her house with disinfectant and odor neutralizer.
“They didn’t even bring a rag with them,” she said.
Norfolk Southern did not respond to direct questions about residents’ ongoing concerns. But the company noted that it launched a website, NSMakingItRight.com, on Monday that provides regular updates to the community.
A Norfolk Southern representative said, “If there is anything we haven’t addressed, we want to hear from residents so we can provide them with up-to-date information.”
The EPA on Tuesday ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up any contaminated soil and water and pay all costs. The agency said the company should also reimburse the cost of cleaning the homes and conducting weekly municipal water tests.
“I want to see things move quickly,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in an interview with NBC News. “And I want to see things more transparent and that’s why we’re taking this action.”
So far, the EPA and Norfolk Southern have tested the air quality in 533 homes and sampled municipal water supplies and deemed them safe. Test results for households that rely on private well water are yet to come back, although 52 have been sampled so far.
Caton said her experience of being reimbursed for hotel and evacuation expenses added to her already high stress levels.
On one visit to the Norfolk Southern aid station, she waited five hours. Another trip lasted four hours.
“I went twice to get the money back during that time and still need to go to get the rest of my expenses back, but the center is flooded with people trying to get just $1,000, Caton said “inconvenience checks” are being offered to residents of the Norfolk Southern region.
“I have about $1,500 worth of receipts for which I would like a refund,” he said.
Experts say that high levels of anxiety can reduce any adverse physical health effects.
Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, an epidemiologist, spent 18 years working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to environmental impacts in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
After Katrina, he and his colleagues studied how mold in homes affected asthma in children.
“We found that yes, spores from mold exposure indoors had the potential to increase asthma attacks in those children,” said Lichtveld, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. “But what was right next to that was losing a pet during a hurricane, and moving schools more than twice in one year.”
She said she thinks measures such as offering alternative housing for affected residents, whether their homes are deemed safe or not, will go a long way in allaying their fears.
“Perception is reality,” Lichtveld said. “It is our responsibility as scientists to recognize and respect the community’s decision – or one individual’s decision – not to go back, no matter how clean the room.”
Local farmer Steve Montgomery, 51, is concerned about how the contamination will affect his operation.
“Our sales are down today,” said Montgomery, who runs Lamppost Farms, an organic farm and educational facility in nearby Columbiana.
“Is it because everyone is scared? I don’t know.”
Montgomery said he is optimistic his farm will survive the crisis, but he is joining a lawsuit against the railroad company. “Say we lose 25% of our customers, that’s a big hit,” he said.
Flor and her husband have talked about moving away but feel very tied to the community. Now she’s worried about her 12-year-old son’s painful, itchy rash spreading all over his body.
“It is difficult for me to decide whether it is due to something in the air that is bothering him, or the water when he bathes, or his clothes that are being washed in this water, or if it is something else. ,” He said.
Flor said she’s glad officials are committed to testing municipal water on a weekly basis, but she worries the effort will fade over time.
“It will take years for our water to be affected,” she said. “And until that time, I think everybody’s going to, and nobody’s testing it.”