Support for East Palestine: Pep rally held over residents’ health concerns |  News, Sports, Work
Support for East Palestine: Pep rally held over residents’ health concerns |  News, Sports, Work

NEGLEY – East Palestine resident Rob Two-Hawks used a simple analogy to make a serious point about environmental and health concerns following last year’s south Norfolk train derailment during a gathering at the East Palestine Country Club in Negley on Saturday.

“If the aquarium makes your fish sick, don’t treat the fish without treating the aquarium first,” he said. “You cure the fish, but you have to fix what’s making it sick.”

Two-Hawks was part of a panel of residents who spoke at the “Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers” conference, which brought together area residents, environmental activists and labor groups to demand improved rail safety as well as monitoring of health and health care for those affected by the rail disaster.

The rally was organized by the East Palestine Train Derailment Unity Council, a grassroots advocacy movement for residents of the area, and the environmental groups Food & Water Watch and Breathe Collaborative, brought buses of support from Pennsylvania and as far away as Iowa.

The primary goal of the newly formed Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition is to seek a presidential declaration of emergency for East Palestine and surrounding communities affected by the derailment and enactment of the Stafford Act, a law that mobilizes federal relief resources of state and local governments in disaster relief.

After the derailment, residents reported an array of medical symptoms — persistent nosebleeds, headaches, rashes, eye irritation, breathing and digestive difficulties, cognitive problems, seizure-like episodes and rectal bleeding. They say these are a direct result of the derailment and chemical release, and are advocating for more federal support.

Six months after the disaster, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine made a formal request to President Joe Biden for a major presidential disaster declaration related to the derailment.

The Biden administration issued an executive order on September 20 instructing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to appoint a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts. Jim McPherson, an emergency management specialist and experienced disaster recovery coordinator, was selected to conduct a comprehensive assessment of all “unmet needs” which are not being considered by Norfolk Southern and would be eligible for federal aid. During his first trip to the area in February, Biden also announced six grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help study the potential epidemiological and environmental damage of the derailment.

To date, a disaster declaration has not been made and the evidence gathered during McPherson’s assessment has not been released.

While Biden’s order and the NIH studies are a step in the right direction, residents and the newly formed coalition say the federal government can do more, noting that a disaster declaration would open up a wealth of resources and support for those still living. in turmoil and uncertainty a year after the derailment.

The coalition claims that in addition to the 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride that was dumped and burned from five tank cars, an event that the National Transportation Safety Board called “unnecessary” earlier this month, a cocktail of chemicals such as butyl acrylate and ethyl acrylate spilled during the derailment had a devastating impact on public health and the environment.

Residents are also calling for the passage of the Social Security Act 1881a, which promises free medical care to victims of environmental hazards.

Chris Albright is an East Palestine resident who developed congestive heart failure after the derailment and said health care for East Palestine and surrounding communities is paramount. A gas line worker and member of LIUNA 1058, Albright said health ailments kept him from working.

“I can’t provide for (my) family and I have three girls. I lost my health benefits,” he said. “I can’t afford the medication because of something that Norfolk Southern could have and should have prevented.”

Chistina Siseloff, a resident of Darlington, Pa., who lives six miles from the derailment site, said she experienced a long list of health symptoms after the train crash and spent countless hours searching for answers through doctor’s appointments and phone calls to health care providers. health care . She also pointed out that before the derailment she had not sought medical attention since 2016 and that her symptoms were shared with other residents in Darlington.

“We must have medical supervision for ourselves, our children, and at least their children,” Sicelov said. “Our doctors still don’t know what to tell us. A year later, we still don’t know what was or what still remains in our environment or in our homes.

In addition to medical care, health insurance and health monitoring, the coalition is also demanding that the rail industry implement changes to ensure that another community does not suffer the same fate as East Palestine. They are also calling for immediate passage of the Railroad Safety Act, which would mandate, among other things, hot box detectors every 10 miles of track, advance notification to local authorities of trains carrying dangerous goods and a minimum of two people crew on each train.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators JD Vance, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on March 1, 2023, but the bill has not yet reached the Senate. The Coalition said Norfolk Southern and all Class 1 railways should not only stop opposing the bill, but support it.

Albright said serious change and real recovery will only come with the help of many, noting that it will take the power of numbers to compel railroads and government agencies to act.

“It was a disaster that happened and changed our lives and we will never go back to normal.” he said. “We didn’t want this train to derail. We didn’t want the train to derail, and we can’t do anything about it without the help of everyone in this room and everyone in this country. It will take all of us to get over this and for people to understand what happened here and what is still happening.

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