For days, authorities have been telling residents of the area around East Palestine, Ohio, that it is safe to return home after a 150-car train carrying dangerous chemicals derailed on February 3.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the chemical spill resulting from the derailment had killed about 3,500 small fish in 7½ miles of streams as of Wednesday.

And a resident of Lima Norte, more than 10 miles from East Palestine, told WKBN-TV of Youngstown that her five chickens and one rooster died suddenly Tuesday. The day before, rail operator Norfolk Southern had burned train cars carrying vinyl chloride, a flammable gas, to prevent an explosion.

For some people living near the derailment site, reports continue to raise fears that they and their animals may be exposed to chemicals through the air, water and soil.

«Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something’s going on if the fish are floating in the creek,» Cathey Reese, who lives in Negley, Ohio, told Pittsburgh’s NBC affiliate WPXI last week. Reese said that she saw dead fish in a stream that flows through her backyard.

Jenna Giannios, 39, a wedding photographer in nearby Boardman, said she has had a persistent cough for the past week and a half. She has been drinking bottled water and is uncomfortable bathing in the tap water in the bathroom, she said.

«They only evacuated just 1 mile from that space, and that’s crazy to me,» he said, coughing during the conversation. «I’m concerned about the long-term health impact. It’s just a disaster.»

Members of the Ohio National Guard prepare to assess the remaining dangers in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 7.Ohio National Guard / via AP

After the controlled burn, the Environmental Protection Agency They warned the residents of the area of possible lingering odors, but noted that vinyl chloride by-products may emit odors at levels below those considered hazardous.

ohio officials said on wednesday that residents could return home after air quality samples «showed readings at points below safety detection levels for contaminants of concern.»

EPAwhich oversees air quality testing, said: «Air monitoring since the fire was extinguished has not detected any level of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time.»

However, the EPA said Friday in a letter Norfolk Southern that chemicals carried on the train «continue to be released into the air, surface soils, and surface waters.»

The EPA said that as of Saturday night it had tested indoor air in 210 homes and had detected no vinyl chloride. Another 218 houses had not yet been checked as of Sunday, He said.

EPA ranks vinyl chloride as a carcinogen; routine exposure may increase the risk of liver damage or liver cancer. Short-term exposure to high concentrations may cause drowsiness, loss of coordination, disorientation, nausea, headache, or burning or tingling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

East Palestine has scheduled an emergency council meeting for Wednesday to address voter concerns.

Andrew Whelton, a professor of ecological and environmental engineering at Purdue University, said the burn may have created additional compounds that the EPA might not be testing.

«When they burned the materials, they created other chemicals. The question is what did they create?» he said.

The cleanup continues February 9 of parts of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.
Cleanup continues Thursday of parts of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.Gene J. Puskar/AP

Whelton added that some of the other chemicals the train was carrying could also cause headaches, nausea, vomiting or skin irritation.

In Darlington, Pennsylvania, 4 miles from the accident, managers of the Kindred Spirit Rescue Ranch evacuated 77 of its largest animals, including a yak and a zebu, over two days.

«We could see the plume go up and over us,» said ranch founder Lisa Marie Sopko. «Our eyes were burning and my face could feel it.»

Sopko said she is concerned about the conditions. The ranch’s water comes from its own two wells, but until experts can analyze them, Sopko said, her team is using a well with a more sophisticated filtration system.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture said the risk to livestock remains low.

“ODA has not received any official animal welfare reports related to the incident,” it said in a statement.

Still, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation urges members to test their local well water as soon as possible.

«The biggest concern is the water table at this point, to see what kind of exposure there has been to these chemicals,» said the office’s organizing director, Nick Kennedy.

«There is a certain level of frustration» among farmers, Kennedy added. «They just want answers. Their livelihood could be at stake here.»

Laura Fauss, public information officer for the Columbiana County Health District, said the department began taking groundwater samples last week in partnership with the state Department of Health, state EPA and Norfolk Southern contractors.

The results haven’t come in yet, Fauss said, and he didn’t know when to expect them.

He added that his department has not received reports of residents experiencing abnormal symptoms.

But Giannios said she and other residents haven’t gotten all their questions answered, so in the meantime, she has started a Facebook page where people can keep in touch about their concerns.