Marisa Twigg, Creative and Communications Director, February 17, 2023
Columbus, OH — The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) continues to act in solidarity with the community of East Palestine. This week, we learned more about the environmental impacts of the February 3, 2023 train derailment and toxic chemical release. Despite a series of press conferences and town halls from local, state and federal officials, questions remain about the potential short and long-term health impacts of this environmental disaster on the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities.
We continue to gather information, monitor the impacts to the community and develop long-term regulatory and policy solutions for improved emergency response in the face of environmental disasters.
In response to this evolving situation, the following quote can be attributed to Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) Managing Director of Water Policy Melanie Houston:
“Ohio families deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water and play without worry in their communities. Accidents like Norfolk Southern’s train derailment and toxic chemical spill in East Palestine jeopardize Ohioans’ ability to live safe and healthy lives while perpetuating historical environmental injustices in our state — especially in this community that continues to be harmed by extractive fossil fuel and other polluting industries.
“Decision-makers must not deny the lived experience of community members and the stories they’re sharing of serious health issues in the aftermath of the train derailment and chemical release. We continue to work in solidarity with our partners, on-the-ground advocates and residents fighting for transparency, accountability and justice.
“We urge the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to use their full authority under the law to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for this environmental disaster. Norfolk Southern should not only cover the emergency response and remediation costs now, but also the costs of long-term harms to human health and the environment. This multi-billion dollar company should be required by federal and state authorities to immediately establish a long-term funding mechanism to cover all costs for short-term healthcare, long-term health monitoring and compensation for the residents negatively impacted by this event in East Palestine and the surrounding area.
“We agree with River Valley Organizing and amplify the call of residents that independent environmental tests should be available for all communities affected by this incident. In addition to the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA’s own testing, the OEC calls on the state and federal government to contract or consult with reputable third-party scientists to conduct an independent and comprehensive environmental data-gathering effort that centers household safety — with thorough input from the community to address their valid skepticism concerning tests paid for by Norfolk Southern. Based on expert opinions and reported health effects in the community, we believe the air testing to date may be insufficient to assess the risks and exposure of residents in the community of East Palestine and beyond, that water testing must be ongoing; and that household dust testing must occur.
“We know that it will take time to understand the full impact of this environmental disaster on the community, however residents deserve to know as much information as possible about the health of their homes and the environment, while getting the support they need now. To that point, we urge Norfolk Southern and local, state, and federal agencies to close their transparency and communication gaps with the public in a timely, accessible and just manner.”
The following quote can be attributed to Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) Associate General Counsel Chris Tavenor:
“The Ohio General Assembly and Congress must pass rail safety legislation designed to prevent an incident like this from occurring again. In addition to those critical reforms, state and federal leaders must also ensure legislative and regulatory reforms to guarantee swift, collaborative and transparent response to future emergencies similar to this train derailment. To that end, elected officials must ensure agencies who provide these critical functions receive the funding they need, rather than being systematically defunded, as they have been historically.
“Furthermore, agencies at the local, state and federal level should know precisely what chemicals are being transported before an accident even occurs. Effective communication measures should be in place to help community members understand what they need to do to stay safe as a disaster unfolds.
“Finally, communities should have resources immediately available for comprehensive health monitoring and healthcare to protect them from residual impacts resulting from environmental disasters. The people of Ohio must be put above the profits of corporations. We look forward to working with lawmakers on these important legislative changes.”
For further questions or information, we recommend contacting the following experts and local advocates:
River Valley Organizing
Amanda Kiger, Director
firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-303-7197
Sierra Club Ohio
Cindy Carr, Press Secretary
Fair Shake Legal Services
www.fairshake-els.org/contact-us or 412-664-5546