Western Pennsylvanians living near the Ohio border say they have been left out of recovery efforts following the February 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment in neighboring East Palestine, Ohio.
The accident prompted evacuations and fears of air, water and soil contamination, especially 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 spill site, telling NBC News the agency «is here to stay and we’re not leaving until the job is done.» finished».
But Pennsylvanians say they are frustrated by a lack of information about the lasting risks of the disaster and are demanding more transparency from state and federal leaders, who they say are focusing too much on recovery efforts within a 2-mile radius. derailment, a designation established by the EPA.
“No one is doing anything to help us,” said Patty Barber, who lives in Darlington, Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the spill site. «Pennsylvania is being left out.»
State officials have said they sympathize with residents’ concerns and are coordinating response efforts among various agencies.
Last week, Governor Josh Shapiro met with Darlington residents who received water tests through the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The department has also been working 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 East Palestine. The state departments of environmental protection and agriculture will be available at the clinic to help community members sign up for free water tests and provide guidance on food and animal safety, according to the governor’s office.
Starting Monday, the EPA saying, Municipal water in East Palestine was safe to drink. Indoor air quality assessments of more than 550 homes did not exceed safety standards, and air quality in the community remains «normal,» the EPA said.
But residents who live outside the immediate area say it’s hard to get crucial information even when people complain of various ailments, including bronchitis, headaches and other symptoms associated with chemical exposure.
Many thousands of fish have died, and community members have spoken about finding sick pets and wildlife.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the people in eastern Palestine, they got the brunt of it, but that cloud didn’t stay there,” said Sherry Strozza, who lives about 3 miles away in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.
Strozza said she has been experiencing headaches since the chemical spill and is concerned for the safety of her dog and three horses. A yellow-white residue now covers portions of the soil from it, which Strozza has been unable to test despite repeated calls to state and federal environmental agencies and local testing companies.
“I called the DEP. I called the EPA. They keep telling me that I am out of range of the testing area,” she said. «I would feel more comfortable if I could test my soil, but I don’t know how.»
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said the agency is 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 those 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 the test.
Officials began testing private wells on February 21 and public providers were tested a week earlier. The department said it has detected no groundwater contamination to date.
As of Wednesday, the state has completed sample collection from 13 of the 16 known residential wells within a 1-mile radius of the derailment site 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 find any contamination related to the train derailment, we will respond appropriately to protect public health and remediate 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 east of Palestine in Clinton, Pennsylvania, said her biggest concern is the health of her children, who have been experiencing cold-like symptoms in recent weeks and contaminated leaking water. in his well.
«Anywhere the wind blew that day [of the derailment]all those people are an afterthought,» he said.
Many of their concerns were highlighted on February 17 during a five-hour hearing by the Pennsylvania State Senate committee. Eight community members shared their concerns and frustrations, with most saying they felt Pennsylvania had been abandoned.
Lawrence County resident Sheila Stiegler, who lives 16 miles from where the train derailed, told lawmakers she is angry and heartbroken by what she calls a slow response from the state. She described her family as modern farmers who grow their own food and buy what they can’t grow from local farmers. She now worries about the long-term impacts of the derailment on her food and her family.
“We face uncertainty and feel abandoned and alone,” he said.
In Darlington, Barber said he still doesn’t know if his home is safe. She and her family didn’t see birds flying over her farmhouse for about a week after the train derailment, and the deer that normally drink from their ponds have yet to return, she said. The stream where her family likes to swim is full of dead fish.
“Is my house safe? I don’t know,” she said. “This is where I grew up. Where else could she 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 companies or state agencies. Strozza said she would be more comfortable if her house could be cleaned «from top to bottom» and that Barber would like to be tested periodically over the next few months and even years.
“I live less than a mile from ground zero. My brother is a 7-minute drive away,” she said. «Our entire way of life has been compromised, and no one seems to understand that.»