Is the EPA Lying to East Palestine Residents?

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Photo by NTSB)

By Naya Lee

EAST PALESTINE—Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, accuse the EPA and the government of lying about the safe air and water quality after the train derailment in February. Videos of the water quality in Ohio have gone viral for its contaminated nature despite EPA’s assurance that there are no harmful levels of contaminants in the air or water. 


On Feb. 3, 2023, 38 cars from a train of 150 had derailed in East Palestine. These 38 cars were carrying hazardous materials that started a fire damaging several more cars. The main concern after the derailment was the air and water pollution that posed potential harm to East Palestine residents who were evacuated as soon as possible.


Air quality continues to be screened for chemicals today by independent groups to ensure EPA measurements are reported accurately to the public. Independent teams such as those from Carnegie Mellon find that there are no extreme hotspots of hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride, although levels of chemicals are higher in this area than others. However, there is a concerning level of acrolein which may pose long term concerns. 


However, even a month later, residents claim to be experiencing health problems that have stemmed since the evacuation. Out of the 168 residents surveyed, WKYC Studios reports that 74 percent experience headaches, 61 percent experience coughing, and more than 50 percent experience fatigue and skin irritation. Residents continue to question the air quality because of their symptoms. One resident claims he had to send his mother to California because she couldn’t “breathe here anymore.” 

Other residents protest at a town hall meeting, telling EPA not to lie to them after representatives reiterate that the air is safe in the town.


Residents not only doubt the safety of air quality but also the quality of the water which has sparked even heavier tensions. The EPA’s official website states that “East Palestine public drinking water testing results confirm that there is no indication of risk to East Palestine public water system customers. Treated drinking water shows no detection of contaminants associated with the derailment.”


Angry residents post videos of the water quality in response to this statement. One viral video posted on Twitter by Nick Sortor shows a resident throwing a rock into a local creek. The clip shows an unnatural, oily sheen at the surface of the river showing clear contamination. The video, captioned with “Proof that the EPA is LYING to the people of East Palestine” reflects the anger of the residents. 


Another viral video posted on Twitter by J.D Vance showing the water in a river near the town received 5.2 million views. The video shows Senator Vance scraping the bottom of the creek bed with a stick resulting in a flowering of chemicals that weren’t obvious before and shows an oily sheen similar to that shown in Sotor’s video. 


Fox19 News also shows News Anchor Tricia Macke throwing a stone into a river, resulting in a fizzing and bubbling effect along with the familiar oil slick. The clip received another 1.4 million views on Twitter. She asks the public, “Would you stay here? Would you drink that water?” sparking more angry comments protesting help for East Palestine residents. 


In an interview with WFMJ, water expert Dr. Kuldeep Singh comments on these videos, claiming that the reason for these effects could be that the groundwater is contaminated, which explains the bubble of chemicals when the creek is disturbed. Other reasons could be that “chemicals have fused to natural elements resulting in toxic by-products,” or that decomposition of natural products have resulted in this oily sheen.


Governor DeWine also responds to these viral videos claiming that one creek remains “grossly contaminated” and “should be avoided, but that efforts to clean are being ensued once again, reflecting the same response given by the EPA and other government agencies in an attempt to reassure the angry public. 


In the end, the residents of East Palestine who are often left in the dark continue to protest for more information and action to be taken to ensure the safety of all individuals. Many continue to call out for help from those outside of the community to help raise awareness for those involved in the train derailment crisis.

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