Health impacts continue to emerge in East Palestine, Ohio

By Ellie Borst, Mike Lee | 08/23/2023 01:33 PM EDT

“People are still sick,” said Beatrice Golomb, a medical professor who has been performing blood tests on residents near the site of a fiery February train wreck and chemical spill.

A warning sign that says "Keep Out: Testing & Cleaning in Progress" is posted near a stream

A warning sign is posted near a stream in East Palestine Park in East Palestine, Ohio, on June 22. Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo

Researchers are still trying to determine the extent of the public danger more than six months after the fiery train wreck and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, even though the railroad company and federal regulators say the town’s air and water are safe.

Preliminary blood test results from residents in or near the small town near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border show “abnormalities” that could be linked to the fiery train derailment in February.

Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, launched an independent toxin health effects study in May with the intent to track over time how different chemical combinations react and affect residents in or near East Palestine.


So far, she said, she’s seeing “severe cases of mixed-toxin illnesses.”

After the train derailed and released tons of toxic chemicals into the environment, residents began reporting ailments such as unusual pains, headaches, fatigue and trouble breathing. Golomb said those illnesses persist.

“People are still sick,” Golomb said. “This is still an affected area.”

It’s still too soon to tell if there are any patterns between blood test results and illnesses, she said. Golomb and her team have run fewer than 100 blood tests, partially because most of the funds have come out of pocket, partially because people are leaving.

“It’s been challenging because people are moving out of the area as fast as we can get [tests] out,” Golomb said.

Previous tests by researchers at Purdue University and Texas A&M University have also found evidence of chemical exposure in East Palestine.

The results show the tensions that remain a half a year since the fiery wreck just outside East Palestine’s business district.

A plume rises from a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed.
A plume rises from a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3. | Gene J. Puskar/AP

Norfolk Southern Railroad said it’s made progress on cleaning up the site. Federal officials are more cautious, while community groups and congressional representatives are frustrated by the pace.

Meanwhile, bills to improve railroad safety are stalled in Congress.

The National Transportation Safety Board highlighted a string of problems at Norfolk Southern and the broader railroad industry during a hearing in June.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) condemned both the railroad and the Biden administration for their responses.

President Joe Biden hasn’t visited the town, despite promising to do so, and the pace of the cleanup continues to frustrate people.

“When a disaster decimates an American community, the commander-in-chief should be expected to assure the suffering, in person, that the entire nation is behind them,” Vance said in a statement.

“I’m growing angrier by the day as improvements are not made. No one can expect the people of East Palestine to return to normal until the hazardous waste in their backyard is gone for good,” Vance added.

Norfolk Southern said in a report it has removed more than 85,000 tons of contaminated soil and 27 million gallons of contaminated water, while flushing out 5,200 feet of waterways and sampling 750 private waterways.

The company has bought property for an office in East Palestine and continues to contribute funds for parks and scholarships in the community.

“Our work isn’t over, which is why we will keep asking people who live in East Palestine and the surrounding communities how we can make things right,” Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Officer Alan Shaw said in the report.