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Ohio residents demand answers at town hall after East Palestine train derailment

Ohio residents express concerns
Ohio residents push for answers about health concerns after train derailment 03:07

Tempers flared at a town hall in East Palestine, Ohio, on Wednesday as residents demanded answers about the Norfolk Southern train derailment that led to a controlled release of toxic chemicals and forced many to leave their homes for several days. 

Thirty-eight of the train's 151 cars derailed in the village on Feb. 3, after at least one breakdown earlier in its trip. The derailment also caused a fire that damaged 12 more cars. According to Norfolk Southern, 11 of the train cars were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride and ethylhexyl acrylate

While residents have been able to return to their homes, they have raised concerns about air quality, water safety and more. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air is safe, and testing results have shown that municipal water in town wells is "safe to drink," according to local officials. However, residents have reported incidents like burning eyes, ill pets or dead fish in waterways

Melissa Blake, a resident of East Palestine, said she was diagnosed with acute bronchitis from chemical fumes just two days after the derailment. 

"They quarantined me, they gave me a breathing treatment, they put me on oxygen. They were gonna wash my clothes because they didn't know what was on me," Blake told CBS News. 

The town hall on Wednesday evening was meant to help reassure residents. Representatives of Norfolk Southern had been set to join the meeting, but declined to appear citing "the growing physical threat" to employees, according to a statement. State, local and federal officials did attend the meeting, where residents expressed frustration and confusion. 

Train broke down days before derailing in Ohio 02:02

"Everybody came here expecting a whole lot more than what we're getting right now!" one resident could be heard saying. 

When a local official asked if people were satisfied with the answers they were receiving, the crowd shouted "no!" in response. 

Another person could be heard saying they didn't trust Norfolk Southern, to cheers from other residents. 

Even as officials have sought to reassure residents, the situation can be hard to accurately measure, said CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus. According to Agus, the long-term health effects of industrial chemicals on humans are not well studied. 

"When this happened, there wasn't a playbook of we can do X and Y if this spills," Agus said. "They're developing that playbook as we speak, and that is very difficult for them to do on the fly and obviously dramatically stressful for anybody who lives in that area ... We don't know what is a safe concentration in the air, in the soil and the water of any of these compounds." 

Even as the process continues, trains have already resumed traveling through the East Palestine area. 

"(My biggest worry is) that it's never going to go away," Blake said. "That it's going to get worse." 

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