The East Palestine, Ohio/Pennsylvania Disaster: Are the Contaminants in the Food Chain?

The East Palestine derailment didn’t just affect Ohio- its effects also caused havoc in Pennsylvania. On February 28, 2023, I participated in a conference call with Meghan McDonough, the State Director of the Pennsylvania Food and Water Watch, Ashley Bennett, a concerned mother who lives just 5.3 miles from the derailment, and Sheila Stiegler, a landowner in Pennsylvania whom I have known for several years. All three of these women are angry, frustrated, and stated that the government and rail company have massively failed the people. And something needs to be done for the long-term effects on the citizens of the region.

After the “fiery” derailment on Feb 3, the cars carrying the dangerous chemicals were ignited in what was called a “vented burn” on Feb 6. Authorities exploded what was supposed to be one rail car…that ended up as 5 rail cars. The explosion produced a giant mushroom cloud of particulates that fell in a 200 mile – and more – radius. The winds changed direction, depositing the particulates farther than just East Palestine. On Feb 7, authorities reignited residual material in a second burn at night when residents were asleep (an action caught on security camera).

Screenshot (provided)
Screenshot of where the particulates drifted after the vented burn. (via NOAA, a map which has since been removed from their website. Provided)

Meghan McDonough told us that the East Palestine derailment was the “worst response” to a disaster she had ever seen. She stated that the EPA was not doing testing on private landowner wells or soil in Pennsylvania, which were within the radius of the derailment. The issue comes with the fact that the deadly chemicals have been deposited in waterways and soil. The EPA reportedly has the ability to test such properties, but for some reason they have not done so as of this writing.

EPA Method 1613: “Method 1613 was developed by the Industrial Technology Division CITD) within the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Office of Water Regulations and Standards (OWRS) to provide improved precision and accuracy of analysis of pollutants in aqueous and solid matrices.”

In other words, it was designed to detect dioxins and other toxic substances in the waters and soil. Dioxins are deadly “persistent” pollutions that can remain in the waters and soil for decades because they do not quickly break down. They cause cancer, reproductive damage, immune disorders, and developmental problems.

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Ashley Bennett, who described herself as a “mad mother,” has children in the Black Hawk school district. That school district was evacuated just after the derailment. She demanded that air filters be changed out and the water tested at the school, a process which costs around $10,000. Both her children and the others in the school district were likely exposed to dioxins which redistributed after the wind changed direction to Newcastle and Beaver Falls.

During the phone call, Ashley was emotional about the safety of her children since the water in the schools have not been tested. She also said that her emails to authorities have been ignored.

Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist and attorney, has become involved in this fight and is simply holding informational meetings and bringing in experts. She is now being pegged as a domestic terrorist. Are the locals’ domestic terrorists too because they are concerned for the health and safety of their families and farms?

“The schools should have been cleaned. My children are afraid of the water. They also have bronchitis that is not Covid. And officials are dismissing my concerns. My children do not have a price tag.”  Ashley Bennett

Even members of the Rail Workers Union claim that they’ve been getting sick after the derailment.

Stephen Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, told WKBN there is no doubt in his mind that dioxins were released during the controlled burn of vinyl chloride in East Palestine last month.

The scientist said the EPA’s decision not to test for the highly toxic chemical compound is a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”

U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore said the agency will not test for dioxins at this time. Breitbart

Sheila Stiegler, who testified before the Pennsylvania Senate hearing at the following link, is a landowner with animals. She is very articulate, as you will hear from her sworn testimony. She stated that she is extremely concerned about whether her eggs, poultry, and meat were contaminated by the derailment. No testing was done, so does that mean all those chemicals are already in the food chain? Trout season is supposed to begin on April 1.

 My biggest concern is where I live. I saw the particulates. Is our soil contaminated? Is it safe to grow crops on my property? Is the feed my animals eat safe? Are my eggs and meat safe to eat? ” Sheila Stiegler

Screenshot of Sheila Stiegler during her testimony

At this link you will find the testimonies of several Pennsylvania residents, including Sheila.  The woman directly beside her experienced skin eruptions from the disaster because she was also near the derailment and exposed to chemicals like vinyl chloride. One of the panel of residents talked about the dead fish “all over the banks” of local streams. Dead fish, dead deer…what will be the effects on farm animals, pets, and people?

The train derailment has created a firestorm of controversy. Norfolk Southern has set up a health clinic in the area and people do not need appointments. They do have to sign a form, which in itself may be of concern because it may have a connection to a health monitoring program called REDcap that began in January. The Railroad has promised to pay for temporary relocations of residents. Although Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern railroad apologized for the derailment, and offered temporary assistance, he did not say they would pay for the long-term health effects of the disaster. There have been 3 train derailments for this company since the initial disaster on Feb 3.

“As soil work continues at Norfolk Southern’s derailment site, some residents close to the derailment site may notice additional odors,” the announcement reads. “At EPA’s request, Norfolk Southern has agreed to provide additional financial assistance to residents of the East Palestine area, including the portions of Pennsylvania within a mile of the derailment site…

As of Monday, 3.2 million gallons of contaminated water has been transported off site, 2,366 tons of waste soil was removed, 5,200 feet of waterways have been flushed and 186 private water wells have been tested, according to the company.

EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct all cleanup efforts associated with the derailment on Feb. 21. The efforts included identifying and cleaning contaminated water and soil, reimburse the EPA for cleaning costs, pay for the EPA’s work and participate in public meetings, according to the press release.”  Daily Caller on March 6

In point, it’s never been just about “odors.” It’s about the contamination. A small makeshift dam set up to contain the pollution on Leslie Run Creek in East Palestine reportedly collapsed earlier this month, sending the contaminants downstream into other waterways. Chemicals have been found in the Ohio River near Cincinnati about 200 miles away, as we previously reported.  Pennsylvania is at the edge of the problems of the East Palestine derailment, and also need remediation.

The video of a makeshift dam to collect pollutants reportedly collapsed after a heavy rain. Screenshot via Cleveland19.com

The lack of cohesive, rapid response to this train derailment has brought devastation and fear to communities from Ohio to Pennsylvania. Their concerns are genuine and must be addressed with more than politics or platitudes. Apologies are worthless.



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Faye Higbee

Faye Higbee is the columnist manager for Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. She has been writing at Conservative Firing Line since 2013 as well. She is also a published author.

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