Residents and workers at the site where a train loaded with dangerous chemicals derailed this month have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other conditions that doctors and nurses suspect are linked to chemical exposure.
Melissa Blake, who lived within a mile of the crash site in East Palestine, Ohio, said she began coughing up gray mucus and having trouble breathing on February 5, two days after the Norfolk Southern train derailment . That day she evacuated her home and also went to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with “acute bronchitis caused by chemical fumes,” according to medical records reviewed by NBC News.
“They gave me a breathing machine. They put me on oxygen. They put me on three types of steroids,” Blake said. She hasn’t been home since being discharged about three weeks ago.
At CeramFab, a manufacturing company adjacent to the derailment site, five of its 10 employees were too sick to work as of Tuesday, according to general manager Howard Yang.
Yang said the company suspended operations for about a week because of the train derailment and the subsequent release of the carcinogenic chemical vinyl chloride on the train, which was intentionally burned to avoid the risk of an explosion. Yang’s employees resumed work on February 13, he said, but after about two days, they “started dropping like flies.”
“People got rashes, nausea, vomiting, bloody nose, eye problems. Lots of coughing, wheezing,” he said. “We sent a lot of employees to the hospital to get tested and sure enough, in most cases, it was a diagnosis of ‘chemical bronchitis.’ He was given five different types of pills including steroids. Some boys have to use an inhaler. That’s too bad.
NBC News could not independently verify the workers’ diagnoses.
Deborah Weiss, a nurse practitioner at QuickMed Colombiana — one of the closest urgent care clinics to East Palestine — said she has seen “exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals” with bronchitis or other illnesses for patients who live or work near the crash site. Listed as a possible cause. ,
Weiss said she’s seeing about five to 10 people a day from that area with symptoms consistent with chemical exposure.
“They have been complaining of irritation in their lungs, irritation of nose, irritation in eyes, sore throat, unknown rashes which have started since they came back home,” she said.
Bronchitis is characterized by inflamed airways that often cause coughing and wheezing. It’s usually caused by a virus, but chemical bronchitis is caused by a chemical irritant, Dr. John Balmes, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and spokesman for the American Lung Association.
“Anytime you burn chlorinated compounds, you get really bad materials that are capable of causing chemical bronchitis,” Balmes said.
He said the severity depends on the amount of chemicals inhaled and whether people have pre-existing conditions such as asthma. Most people see their symptoms resolve within a few weeks to a few months, and long-term effects are unlikely, except in high-risk patients, according to Balmes.
In addition to breathing problems, some local residents have complained of headaches, nausea and rashes. These could be symptoms of chemical exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has sent a team to East Palestine starting Monday to interview residents and check for possible health problems. But it is difficult for doctors to make a direct link between these diseases and certain chemicals.
“There’s no lab test. There’s no imaging test. It’s really just a clinical suspicion of what it could be. It’s certainly reasonable to see if you have a rash, dry skin or dry eyes, dry nose, it could be related. There’s really no way to tell for sure, unfortunately,” said Dr. James Kravec, chief clinical officer of Mercy Health in Youngstown and Lorain, Ohio. .
Mercy Health Network includes a primary care office in East Palestine and a hospital 20 minutes outside the city. Kravec said the network had seen more patients from eastern Palestine in the past few weeks than in the past few months.
He adds that oral or topical steroids are usually the first line of treatment for people with rashes caused by chemical exposure.
The full extent of health consequences related to the accident is not yet known. Some people in the East Palestine region have reported feeling ill but have yet to see a doctor, and some long-term effects of chemical exposure, such as cancer, can take decades to appear.
As of Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency said that East Palestine’s municipal water is safe to drink. The EPA said indoor air quality tests from more than 550 homes did not exceed safety standards, and air quality in the community remains “normal”.
Norfolk Southern Railway said in a statement that it was “committed to doing what is right for the residents of East Palestine.” The company has so far offered $8 million in donations or financial support, including $3.4 million to local families and $1 million to the Community Assistance Fund. It also committed to paying for all cleanup costs and continuing to test the air, water and soil.
“If residents have or are experiencing symptoms they are not accustomed to, we would strongly encourage them to see a trusted medical professional or visit the new health clinic that local, state and federal officials are establishing in East Palestine.” Standing by,” a Norfolk Southern spokesman said.
Weiss said some of his patients have displayed symptoms of continued chemical exposure.
“When they go back home, their symptoms get worse or their lungs burn more or they feel like they can’t catch their breath, things like that. So it’s consistently showing that when they go, Then they get better. When they go back home, they feel bad,” she said.
Salem Regional Medical Center, where Blake was cared for, said it had seen about 10 patients in its emergency department since the train derailment who reported symptoms such as sore throat or breathing problems .
Wendy Snyder, a registered nurse living in East Palestine, said she felt a sore throat and a metallic taste in her mouth, which her doctor said “definitely seems related to her chemical exposure,” reviewed by NBC News According to a doctor’s note.
Snyder said her headaches improve when she goes to work at a hospital in Pennsylvania, about 20 miles from her home.
“I don’t feel safe in my own home,” she said. “I’m scared to be here.”
At a Senate hearing Thursday in Pennsylvania, Loni Miller, who has lived in East Palestine for nearly 30 years, said she developed a rash on her face and experienced dizziness and burning eyes. He said that his house is located about one-third of a mile from the site of the derailment.
“One of my best friends has already been diagnosed with chemical bronchitis because he lives right next to the creek,” Miller said at the hearing, referring to one of the city’s contaminated waterways.
Melissa Boyer, who lives less than 250 feet from the derailment, said her 19-year-old daughter is having difficulty breathing and has to use an inhaler several times a day.
Boyer said she herself has had frequent headaches and a burning sensation in her mouth. On her medical chart, under issues addressed, her doctor wrote: “Toxic effects of gas exposure.”
“How can you say that our air quality or our water is safe when we have people all over with these symptoms and health problems?” Boyer said.