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People in East Palestine showing breakdown product of vinyl chloride in urine tests

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Posted at 4:02 PM, Apr 28, 2023

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A man who lives in East Palestine says he tested positive for breakdown products from vinyl chloride two months after the toxic train derailment, but he has been unable to get solid answers about why it was detected and what that means for his health.

Eric Cozza says he’s not getting the answers he needs and News 5 Investigators learned he is not the only one.

People want answers about their health and they’re taking it upon themselves to get tested.

Cozza is living scared on E. Martin Street.

"We just bought our house approx seven months ago, six months ago.”

When asked if he had any regrets, Cozza said, "Oh, yes."

He showed us what he says is his urine test result from last month, which revealed a breakdown product of vinyl chloride.

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News 5 Investigator Tara Morgan speaks to East Palestine resident Eric Cozza.

"So was that shocking to you at all?” we asked.

“Yes, this is very shocking. Because I never thought two months out — maybe when we came back for a little while — to see this two months out, almost three months out, it's very shocking,” Cozza said.

Cozza said he took his results to Norfolk Southern, the railroad company pointed to everything but the derailment.

"They said because I'm a smoker, deodorant, stuff like that,” Cozza said.

The CDC says you can be exposed to vinyl chloride from cigarette and cigar smoke. Cozza isn’t convinced that’s the cause.

"They're putting even more stress on us because we're not getting answers,” Cozza said.

Shelby Walker lives on East Taggart Street.

The toxic train derailment on Feb. 3 happened in her backyard.

"My urine test came back with vinyl chloride and benzene, and my husband's came back with vinyl chloride,” Walker said.

Her family is what’s going through her mind.

"One — we don't know anything. We're not getting any answers, we don't know what to deal with, we don't know what we're going to have to deal with,” Walker said.

Before the test, Walker says she had symptoms like headaches, shortness of breath and fatigue.

"I'm just brokenhearted like I've lost everything. I've lost my home, I've lost my family, they're spread out everywhere, I'm losing my health,” Walker said.

Rick Tsai is a chiropractor just across the state line in Darlington, Pennsylvania.

He treats patients from East Palestine and has ordered tests for his patients.

"I think at this point we've written, this is at the top of my head, 35 maybe 40 prescriptions, many of those are still out,” Tsai said.

Tsai has lived in East Palestine for 30 years, just two miles from the derailment.

He says his own urine test was negative but believes there should be regular testing.

"We already have people testing positive for vinyl chloride in their body. Why not test — why not bring the CDC in and just test us?” Tsai said.

Shirley Lambright lives just over one mile from the derailment.

She says her urine test came back showing vinyl chloride metabolite and was referred to a toxicologist hot line.

Lambright tells News 5 she is scared and plans to have another test done soon.

According to the CDC, blood or urine tests would need to happen shortly after exposure and may not be reliable.

Toxins like vinyl chloride only remain in the body for a limited number of hours, not days.

The Ohio Department of Health says people who are concerned should talk to a doctor.

"I always have to refer out, so I referred them to a medical doctor and their medical doctor really doesn't know what to do,” Tsai said.

In deciphering these results, the clinic set up in response to the disaster said no comment.

"Is it surprising I'm not getting answers myself from the clinic?” we asked.

"Not only does it not surprise me, the one patient that tested positive for vinyl chloride — she went to the clinic and she described it as being ganged up on,” Tsai said.

News 5 Investigators tried to get experts from the big hospitals and universities in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. No one was able to sit down with us to say what this means.

"The only thing we've been told by our doctors is that they're going to keep monitoring us,” Walker said.

Cozza says he fought hard to get a doctor’s order for his urine test.

He dug into his own pocket nearly $1,000 with only uncertainty to show.

"I'm going to do it as many times until they tell me no,” Cozza said.

Norfolk Southern told News 5 Investigators they’re working to provide an additional level of assurance through a medical compensation fund about health impacts that may be discovered.

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