Residents want more testing – and attention – after train derailment

Photo by Anthony Hennen A train moves through Beaver County, Pennsylvania, a few miles from the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

More than a month after the East Palestine train derailment and Norfolk Southern’s decision to burn vinyl chloride from five tanker cars, Pennsylvania residents want more information — and more attention from state leaders.

In western Pennsylvania – a few miles from East Palestine, Ohio – residents spoke of the need for independent analysis and expanding the testing area to ensure water and soil quality. They also want a more proactive approach from the many state and federal alphabet agencies in the area.

Understandably, the speed at which test results and new information reaches them is a recurring issue.

“We’ve tried to be in communication with the public,” said Mike Carreon, vice chairman of the Darlington Township Board of Supervisors, which borders East Palestine. “They just want answers, and sometimes they want them quicker than we can get them.”

Water and soil testing, Carreon said, was a big issue for residents. More information might ease some anxieties. Testing is ramping up, too.

The Department of Environmental Protection, for example, started to collect soil samples from areas in Pennsylvania within a two-mile radius of the derailment on March 10. Results can be slow, however. While collection and shipping to a testing lab can be done within a day or two, backlogs at the labs could mean the DEP won’t have results for weeks.

Norfolk Southern’s soil testing, ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will cover only a one-mile radius from the derailment site, but its plan awaits final approval from the EPA.

However, testing from Norfolk Southern will likely get ignored.

Many locals have little – if any – trust in the rail company. Some residents are wary of the EPA, too; they want, instead, more independent testing unconnected to the rail company or the federal government.

“I don’t think there’s any divide on people distrusting Norfolk Southern,” said Mallory Aponick, disaster services coordinator for the First Church of Christ in East Palestine. “But I think the EPA is going to hold them to task and force them to do what needs to be done properly. I have to have faith in that. I don’t think the EPA is in anyone’s pocket.”

Residents have turned to installing air purifiers, she said, though the EPA’s air monitoring and air sampling data haven’t raised alarms over air quality.

Other locals want more information and more notification from local and state authorities. Jody Jonas of Enon Valley, a few miles from the Ohio border, said she “can’t really trust anything they’re putting out” and called the situation “very nerve-wracking.”

“I want my soil tested because I have grandkids; the tracks are 100 feet behind my house in Enon Valley,” Jonas said. “Those trains, I want to know if they’re dragging those toxins down the tracks.”

Others want more visible support from leading lawmakers.

“There hasn’t been enough of politicians hitting the ground,” resident Kim Nalesnik said. “I just don’t feel like these departments are doing anything.”

Nalesnik is frustrated, but not cynical of all politicians.

“I liked Sen. Casey’s stance and what he did … and (Gov. Josh) Shapiro at first, but now it’s just like it’s on the back burner for him — his assistants are taking care of it,” Nalesnik said. “I just think they should be around more, making sure things are getting done.”

Pennsylvania residents are frustrated and feel that they’re treated differently from people in East Palestine, Carreon said, with state authorities paying less attention to them.

Some Ohioans, however, think Pennsylvanians get more attention.

Dana Linger of Negley, a few miles south of East Palestine in Ohio, had kinder words for Shapiro.

“Our main concern is that we’re being totally ignored unlike Darlington and the surrounding area – Negley’s not getting any attention,” Linger said. “The government of Ohio, unlike Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania has acknowledged what has happened.”

She dismissed Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s response as lackluster.

“The people of Pennsylvania, I’m glad for them, I’m very happy for them that they have a governor that’s willing to stand up to Norfolk Southern,” Linger said. “Our governor must be in bed with them is all I have to say.”


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