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EPA Opted Not to Declare Public Health Emergency Following Ohio Train Derailment Blaze

Federal officials have stated that last year’s fiery train derailment in eastern Ohio does not meet the criteria for a public health emergency due to the absence of documented widespread health problems and ongoing chemical exposures.

Despite the evacuation of half of East Palestine and concerns about potential long-term health effects from the spilled and burned chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not approve the designation following the February 2023 Norfolk Southern derailment. The decision was disclosed in emails obtained by the Government Accountability Project, although the topic of a public health emergency was raised.

Mark Durno, EPA Response Coordinator, explained that the agency has only used the public health emergency designation once before and believes it does not fit the situation in East Palestine. While some residents have reported respiratory problems and rashes, officials argue that the EPA has sufficient authority to respond without declaring an emergency.

Durno emphasized that the decision not to consider a public health emergency is due to a lack of environmental data on ongoing chemical exposures from extensive air, water, and soil testing. Although contamination concerns persist, the EPA issued an order holding Norfolk Southern responsible for the damage, stating that conditions at the derailment site may pose a threat to public health or the environment.

Despite assurances from officials, residents like Jami Wallace and Lesley Pacey continue to experience health issues and are advocating for assistance to address the aftermath of the derailment. Federal and state officials are monitoring the situation, with ongoing testing of air and water in the area as cleanup efforts continue.

The EPA’s handling of the situation has drawn criticism, particularly regarding the decision to release and burn vinyl chloride following the derailment. Although the agency warned about potential dangers, subsequent testing showed only low levels of certain chemicals. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, with the cleanup expected to be completed later this year.

Meanwhile, residents like Rick Tsai express concern about the future of East Palestine and the lack of resources needed to address ongoing health issues. Despite efforts by federal and state agencies, the community remains apprehensive, with many feeling that hope is dwindling.

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