Informational health sessions set in East Palestine
National Institute of Health officials expected to attend
EAST PALESTINE — The first of two informational sessions dedicated to public health in the wake of February’s Norfolk Southern train derailment will be 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at The Way Station inside the First United Presbyterian Church, 109 W. Rebecca St.
Officials from the National Institute of Health will be present at the session.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, “NIH will go over a series of workshops they will hold to evaluate the public health research needs in East Palestine and surrounding areas.”
The informational session with the NIH comes nearly two months after U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, J.D. Vance, (R-Ohio, Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, and John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania, penned an open letter to agency director Lawrence Tabak and Rick Woychik of the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In the letter, the lawmakers urged the agency to “help assess and mobilize existing assets and resources to respond to the community’s biomedical research needs.”
This week’s installment is the latest in the informational series put on by the Region 5 EPA. The planned health sessions come after an outcry from area residents who have experienced a number of physical ailments and symptoms since the chemical spill and controlled burn.
It will be the sixth segment in the series, which has covered soil dioxin sampling, air quality, private well testing, impacts on ground and surface water, and remediation of the crash site. Since the first installment of the informational series, concerned residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities have used the question-and-answer portion of the sessions to ask health-related questions.
Residents have reported headaches, rashes, nosebleeds, fatigue, respiratory irritation and digestive issues. The symptoms mirror those that members of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) team experienced in March while in the village conducting After Chemical Exposure (ACE) surveys. The agency confirmed that seven of its 15-member team reported symptoms.
The preliminary results of 704 of those ACE survey results collected by the CDC were released on April 7 and indicated that 76 percent of East Palestine residents participating in the health assessment experienced headaches while 54 percent experienced coughing, 52 percent experienced fatigue and 50 percent experienced a rash or irritation of the skin. In addition, 62 percent reported anxiety.
While some residents remain symptom-free since the derailment, others continue to report symptoms as well new symptoms. New developments have included reports of cognitive difficulties, tremors and seizure-like episodes.
Lack of available biomedical testing has been a point of contention between residents experiencing symptoms and the responding agencies. The EPA continues to stand by the data collected from sampling results of air, water and soil that the agency says show no dangerous levels of chemicals and no correlation between the derailment and adverse health effects residents are reporting.
The EPA also has dismissed independent medical tests and results presented by those residents. Those tests include urinalysis results that residents insist prove ongoing exposure to chemicals like vinyl chloride. The tests have shown high levels of thiodiglycolic acid (TDGA) or vinyl chloride metabolite. TDGA is the body’s major breakdown product of vinyl chloride and a biomarker for exposure to the chemical.
Testing for the metabolite is the only way to detect vinyl chloride exposure, as vinyl chloride breaks down in the body rapidly. Any detection of .50 is considered a reporting level of TDGA. Some residents say they have registered numbers twice that much but the EPA officials have repeatedly challenged the validity of the metabolite test, asserting test results can be too easily influenced by other variables such as smoking, consuming alcohol or the introduction of B-12 supplements to the body.
Not everyone agrees with the EPA findings. Andrew Whelton, a Purdue University professor of civil, environmental, and ecological engineering, has conducted independent sampling in East Palestine and has criticized responding agencies’ decisions of where to test and what to test for. Whelton reiterated that criticism during his testimony before the Senate of Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee in March.
Scott Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer of ECO Integrated Technologies, and his team also have been conducting independent sampling and testing of water, air and soil in East Palestine and surrounding communities since the derailment and has reported what he calls “dangerous levels” of toxins. Smith has since collaborated with Dr. Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, on a study to track health and blood markers in residents impacted by the plume of the chemical burn.
Golomb, who has has more than 25 years experience in chemical exposure and led a study of exposure in relation to Gulf War illnesses from military burn pits in the Middle East, intends to track exposures to water, air and food, study symptoms and may be used in the future to predict health implications connected to the derailment. University of Kentucky environmental scientist Erin Haynes, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the College of Public Health, is also tracking the health symptoms and exposure concerns from residents in East Palestine with a survey open to anyone aged 18 or older in Columbiana, Mahoning, Stark, Carroll and Jefferson counties in Ohio and residents of Beaver and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania and Hancock County in West Virginia.
While independent researchers have repeatedly voiced the need for assessing the epidemiological impacts of the rail disaster, Thursday’s informational session with the NIH — a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the nation’s medical research agency — will mark the first time since the ACE surveys that a government agency has evaluated a need for medical research and health monitoring in communities close to the derailment.
The second part of the public health discussion will be 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 6 with the CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Residents are encouraged to submit questions in advance for that session using EPA’s East Palestine Train Derailment Local Area Resident Inquiry web form available online at epa.gov.