East Palestine air pollutants raise health concerns, researchers say

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Three weeks after the toxic train derailment in Ohio, an independent analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data has found nine air pollutants at levels that could raise long-term health concerns in and around East Palestine.

The analysis by Texas A&M University researchers seems to contradict statements by state and federal regulators that air near the crash site is safe, despite residents complaining about rashes, breathing problems and other health effects.

Examining EPA data, the researchers found elevated levels of chemicals known to trigger eye and lung irritation, headaches and other symptoms, as well as some known or suspected to cause cancer.

The researchers said it was “good news” that levels of benzene and related chemicals were not elevated in the air sampling. But they said EPA measured acrolein, a hazardous substance found in smoke, at concentrations that could have long-term health effects, along with other chemicals at lower levels that in combination could also raise health concerns if they remained at these levels.

Of the cars that derailed from the Norfolk Southern train on Feb. 3, 11 of them were carrying chemicals used to make plastic. As temperatures inside one rail car rose to levels that authorities feared would cause a massive explosion, they carried out a “controlled release” of the chemicals Feb. 6.

EPA collected the data between Feb. 4 and Feb. 21 and posted the data publicly, but without context that shows “potential concern about long-term health effects,” said Weihsueh Chiu, a professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M. While some of the highest air pollution readings EPA reported were collected in the days after the controlled chemical release, some more recent samples still remain elevated, Chiu said.

“We can’t say whether these levels are causing the current symptoms,” Chiu said. EPA “would want to definitely make sure that these higher levels that are detected would be reduced before they left and declared everything cleaned up.”

Asked for comment on the analysis, an EPA official said the agency would respond “as soon as we can.” Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, and other federal and Ohio environmental officials have said air pollutants would have largely dissipated in the days since the train accident and the chemical release.

This article will be updated.

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