Story by Gavin Mitten and Sophie Young
In the weeks following the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, many residents evacuated and returned.
For those who live within the village limits, five wells make up the municipal water system they drink from. The Ohio EPA tested East Palestine’s municipal drinking water three times in February, posting results to its website.
Ohio’s Emergency Management Agency said in its March 4 update: “All sampling of East Palestine’s municipal water wells to date have shown no contaminants associated with the derailment.”
Residents getting water from the municipal water supply are confident in these results.
“You have the railroad company doing testing, you have the EPA doing testing and you have the county health department doing testing,” said Jim Wilson, a resident of East Palestine who gets his water from the municipal water system. “Our city is also sending out to an independent lab, and all the results are coming back saying there’s no elevated levels that would cause any health concerns.”
Residents expect municipal water to be tested for years to come.
“I’m guessing up to five or six years,” Wilson said. “Our municipal wells are 85 feet down into the ground and capped with cement, so runoff’s not going to be a problem for a long time.”
The continued testing and reassurance from the state do not apply to those with private wells outside of the village water system.
One East Palestine-area resident, who requested his name not be used, lives within a one-mile radius of the derailment site and has a private well. He opted to use an independent lab, Cardinal Environmental Lab of Youngstown, instead of the free testing provided by the EPA. The results came back below detectable levels and he has been drinking the water since Feb. 9, the day after the evacuation order was lifted.
Lenny Glavan, a father of three and a tattoo artist who owns Bulldog Custom Tattooing LLC in East Palestine, moved out of the village temporarily. He has been in contact with Alan Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern, regarding the village’s concerns about continued water testing for new chemicals.
“So now you test these private wells. You’re going to go back and tell people, ‘Hey, your well’s fine, but you know what? We forgot to test for this.’ So now, are we going to pay again? Are they going to come back and do it for free?” Glavan asked.
Michael Regan, the administrator of the U.S. EPA, visited East Palestine for the third time Feb. 28 to open the EPA’s new storefront at 25 N. Market St. This will be a “one-stop shop” where residents can connect to resources and ask questions. For the opening of the location, only members of the media were allowed in and reporters asked questions about citizens’ concerns.
“We’ve been testing the air from the very beginning and the state has been testing the water,” Regan said. Residents can also request cleaning services for their homes and businesses.
The U.S. EPA continues to test the air and water quality to ensure there are no harmful particles present.
“You know, there have been many residents here who have indicated that they worry about some residual, or some tests, or some particles,” Regan said. “While we don’t believe that there are any adverse health impacts in homes or businesses as it relates to the derailment, this is an additional step we’re taking.”
Residents can get their private wells tested by the EPA by calling 330-849-3919.
Residents who need information about the cleaning services or need more general information can contact the EPA in the following ways:
- EPA Community Welcome Center located at 25 N. Market St. in East Palestine. Residents are invited to drop in to talk to EPA staff about the ongoing response. Hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
- Call the EPA toll-free information line at 866-361-0526.
Visit the EPA’s East Palestine, Ohio Train Derailment Emergency Response webpage, which includes an inquiry form where community members can ask questions about the response and request additional information about the cleaning process.