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Norfolk Southern officials skip East Palestine informational meeting following train derailment

Residents share health and safety concerns during amended meeting format
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Train Derailment Ohio
Posted at 2:55 PM, Feb 15, 2023

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — City officials and residents of East Palestine attended a packed informational meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts following a train derailment on Feb. 3, but Norfolk Southern said its representatives will not attend due to the "growing physical threat" to employees.

The meeting was held at the East Palestine High School, but was not conducted in a traditional format with a series of speakers. Instead, multiple tables were set up where residents could speak to different officials about their concerns, with the media held in a separate area, unable to talk to homeowners during the event.

News 5 was able to speak with several East Palestine homeowners while residents waited up to 45 minutes in a line outside the high school.

Rachel and Ryan Dissell had plenty of questions for health and safety leaders.

“Who can we trust and where do we go from here?" said Rachel. “Our most important concern is our health, the value of our home. But the biggest is health first.”

Jessica Helpy is an East Palestine homeowner, and a mother of two, who explained she and her son are having health issues since the derailment and chemical spill.

"You could smell an overwhelming smell of those same chemicals from the first night, so this is days after they lifted the evacuation order," said Helpy. “I can’t even put it into words, I was in tears over the headache I had last night and after those symptoms, I also noticed that I have this rash on my arms that was not here before I came here.”

News 5 spoke with Will Harden, Norfolk Southern's Senior Director, to get the latest on in-home testing.

“So far over 400 homes have had air monitoring inside from Norfolk Southern and the U.S. EPA," said Hardens. “I can say of all the tests conducted there have been no detectable substances from the substances that were in the derailment.”

Harden said he believes the remaining 100 homes will all be completed by the end of the week. Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern issued the following statement as to why it decided not attend the Wednesday meeting.

Norfolk Southern's entire statement can be read below:

Today, we hoped to join local, state, and federal officials at a town hall to update the East Palestine community on the steps we are taking to thoroughly, responsibly, and safely clean up the accident site and to provide the latest results from ongoing water and air testing. We also wanted to be available to provide information on resources from our Family Assistance Center.

At the same time, we know that many are rightfully angry and frustrated right now. Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening. We want to continue our dialogue with the community and address their concerns, and our people will remain in East Palestine, respond to this situation, and meet with residents.

We are not going anywhere. We are committed to East Palestine and will continue to respond to community concerns through our Family Assistance Center and our hotline for citizens to ask questions regarding return to home and health questions. We also plan to look for other opportunities to update residents on our actions over the coming days. We encourage all residents who have questions, concerns or need assistance to contact our Family Assistance Center at 800-230-7049.
Norfolk Southern

On Feb. 13, Norfolk Southern released its Remedial Action Work Plan for the cleanup of the East Palestine train derailment site.

Norfolk Southern releases action plan for cleanup of train derailment site

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

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