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East Palestine residents concerned about lasting effects from hazardous materials after train derailment

East Palestine train derailment
Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-17 19:11:19-05

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — It's been two weeks since the train derailment in East Palestine and crews are still working to clear the area of debris while continuing to monitor the area's air and water quality. While officials have been on the scene addressing the situation, many residents have been left with more concerns than answers.

Austin Huffman works at his family's business, Brushville Supply & Hardware, on East Taggert Street, just across from the railroad tracks and just around the corner from where 50 cars, some carrying hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, caught fire and derailed.

Huffman was among the thousands of residents who evacuated from the area, but two weeks later and after being cleared to return, he was back to work at the hardware store. That is not something he had much of a choice in, however.

"This is just a small business. There's like six of us that work here. And we all depend on it. A lot of other farmers depend on us to be here. And it's just pretty rough. I don't even know if I shouldn't be here or not but still got to pay the bills," Huffman said.

Outside his store, debris is shuffled up the street, train cars marked "HAZ" for hazardous, stored in a parking lot across the street. The utility pole directly across the street is fashioned with an air monitoring device that is regularly checked by workers with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

But still, Huffman has been left with unanswered questions.

"Mostly we want to know what's going on. What are in those tanks? Where are they taking all this stuff? Or are they just taking it 20 miles down the road and dumping it there so then it can run off in the creek for years? We have no idea," Huffman said.

The questions are coming from all over. Some driving in from across the nearby Pennsylvania border to see for themselves what is happening. Others, like Rich Masilon, coming in from just outside of town to check on family and friends still living in the town.

"This is the most disturbing thing that I’ve ever seen in my life," Masilon said. "People are genuinely afraid.They don’t know and the saddest thing is all people are asking for is the truth, we just want the answers."

Some of those questions were answered Friday morning in a press conference held by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health.

DeWine clarified Friday that there are 20 monitors throughout the community continually testing the quality of the air. Currently, there are not any concerns for air quality based on the readings of the monitors, DeWine said.

There are also five municipal water wells that transport water to residents. The wells are tested daily and as of Friday, the readings from the wells continue to show the water is safe to drink.

"In the 500 homes where the area has been tested, no contamination of concern caused by the rail derailment was present in any of these homes," DeWine said. "Testing results from East Palestine Municipal Water Source have come back and the results are that...those five wells that go into the community system, those five wells have all come back clean."

RELATED: Gov. DeWine announces health clinic for East Palestine residents, says air, water still testing safe

DeWine explained what levels were deemed safe and assured residents of the continued efforts to ensure the area is safe to be in. But for many, like Masilon, the concern isn't so much what is happening in this moment—it's the long term impact this event may have on the area.

"Five, 10 years down the line, how bad is it going to be? Nobody knows what the devastation is going to add up to at this point. I kind of feel a little unsafe standing here," Masilon said.

For Huffman, that is a shared concern. A worry for the long term impact this could have on his hometown—and his family, including his four-month-old son.

"Mostly concerned about our safety. I don't really care about getting money back or a lawsuit or anything like that. Mostly it's just his safety," Huffman said.

Huffman stared out of his store's window as he thought about the potential of the train derailment in East Palestine and the unknown surrounding what impact the hazardous materials that were released in the event could have in the years to come.

"Everyone I talked to you thinks we're gonna have cancer in 13 years," Huffman said, fighting back tears. "Sorry, choked up. Thinking about my boy."

CLICK HERE to read more of News 5's extensive coverage of the East Palestine train derailment.

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