Air deemed safe in East Palestine
Residents told they can return to homes
EAST PALESTINE — Just after evacuated residents learned they could safely return home Wednesday night, a train traveled through East Palestine again for the first time since the derailment.
“The evacuation order is now lifted,” village fire Chief Keith Drabick said.
Gov. Mike DeWine, who returned to the village and spent some time on the phone with his Pennsylvania counterpart, Josh Shapiro, said they agreed with consultation of the experts, then introduced Drabick to deliver the good news.
“As the incident commander, I would like to thank the community for your patience and cooperation throughout this process,” Drabick said.
Residents were referred to the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency website at www.ccoe ma.org for the safe re-entry plan.
For residents living on the south side of the railroad tracks, which includes Taggart, Alice, East Main, Wood, Garfield and Oak streets and all side streets between those streets including Pleasant Drive, residents should turn east on Main Street to proceed home from the north on Brookdale. If entering from the west / south, use state Route 170 or state Route 46.
For residents living on the north side of the railroad tracks, which includes Clark, Martin, East North avenues, Grants Street, Lyons and Highland avenues and all side streets within those roads, residents should proceed on North Market Street, turn east onto their respective street and return home. If coming from the south, they should go north to their respective street to go home.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Scott Deutsch reported that all cars have been removed from the rails, but announced temporary road closures with crossings closed at James Street and Pleasant Drive, and with Taggart closed from State Line to the car wash while the cleanup continues.
People can continue to go to the Family Assistance Center at Abundant Life Fellowship from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until further notice for reimbursement for meals, clothing, lodging or other needs. Businesses also can go to the center or call 234-542-6474.
Air quality samples in the area of the wreckage and in nearby residential neighborhoods consistently showed readings at points below safety screening levels for contaminants of concern. Based on this information, state and local health officials determined that it was now safe for community members to return to their residences, the governor’s office stated in a news release.
Air monitoring will be ongoing in the area, but for those who would like air quality readings to be conducted within their homes, Norfolk Southern Railroad has hired an independent contractor to work with local law enforcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state officials to take air quality samples and provide results at no charge. Call 330-849-3919 to schedule the air monitoring.
Free testing of water from private wells in the impacted area also will be offered by the railroad. In the interim, those with private water wells are encouraged to use bottled water, which can be supplied by Norfolk Southern. Those who remain uncomfortable returning home at this time can request assistance with hotel expenses from the railroad.
Residents with questions about hotel assistance, water testing or air sampling can call Norfolk Southern’s Family Assistance Center at 1-800-230-7049.
U.S. EPA on-scene coordinator James Justice said both machines stationed throughout town and team members with handheld monitors checked the air and took samples over the last 24 hours that showed normal concentrations of chemicals that would be found in any community.
Ohio EPA Emergency Response Team member Kurt Kollar said the unfortunate side of this was that some material did get into the waterway and was toxic to fish, but containment steps were taken. He said the OEPA will continue monitoring the situation for some time and work with the Norfolk Southern contractor and continue testing.
When Mayor Trent Conaway approached the podium, he gathered the fire department members behind him, saying “these men behind us saved our town on Friday.”
He noted that only the chief works full-time for the fire department. He said their actions showed their level of training and commitment to their community.
“If it wasn’t for them, our citizens would have been in peril,” Conaway said.
He offered his thanks to all involved from the many agencies.
Eric Brewer, director of Emergency Services for Beaver County in Pennsylvania, also spoke briefly saying the county’s displaced residents would be contacted personnally and to check the social media site for Beaver County. A representative of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also spoke.
During the news conference, a NewsNation media member was arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass during a live report as the governor and fire chief were speaking. He was removed in handcuffs and taken to jail. When asked about it, the governor said members of the media had a right to be there.
In a news release, the governors and incident commander expressed their thanks for support received from local, state, federal and private entities.