Clinic coming to help residents near East Palestine railroad derailment with health concerns
Some residents in and near East Palestine have been complaining of headaches in recent days following the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials and the controlled burn of vinyl chloride afterward.
The state said a medical clinic is being established for residents of East Palestine who are experiencing symptoms they think could be a result of exposure to contaminants from that incident.
Gov. Mike DeWine said the federal Health and Human Services agency, along with state authorities, will set up the clinic with medical professionals to serve residents with any healthcare concerns. “We want them to be able to engage with the residents of East Palestine. We want them to be able to answer the resident’s questions, evaluate symptoms and provide their medical expertise,” DeWine said.
The clinic will be open for business beginning Monday. Residents can obtain services free of charge and can access them online. "This whole, last several weeks has taken a tremendous toll on residents in East Palestine. We know that this has been a traumatic experience for all of them," DeWine said.
There will also be help for residents who need mental health services. Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Lori Criss said incidents like this affect people differently. "Traumatic events like this cause stress and anxiety and worry," Criss said.
Criss said common signs of mental stress include feelings of disbelief or numbness, change in energy levels, difficulties concentrating, disruptions in appetite or sleep, and feeling fearful or angry. Any resident who is experiencing those symptoms is encouraged to reach out through the same website, call the 211 line or the Ohio Care Line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-720-9616. "The important thing is to know that you are not alone, and help is available in your local community in a way that feels comfortable and convenient to you," Criss said.
DeWine said the most recent water tests show the East Palestine municipal water supply is safe, and there’s no reason for those residents to drink bottled water. But for those using water from private wells, DeWine said they should drink bottled water until their water supplies are tested and deemed to be safe. Testing can be obtained free of charge, by calling 330-849-3919.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said health officials are providing residents with good advice right now. "Consistently, we have worked very hard to provide accurate information based on the facts as we know them, and that includes all of the testing we are doing. In fact, as we receive the results, Ohio EPA is posting them publicly," Dr. Vanderhoff said.
Many residents in or near East Palestine have complained the state isn't doing enough, and isn't being forthright about the dangers that could result from this disaster. DeWine countered that complaint.
“We are doing this testing. We didn't wait. We were in there early. We know where the contamination is. We know what the situation is with the air and the air that people are, in fact, breathing is fine,” DeWine said. “We are now bringing in medical people to talk to anybody who has a particular problem. So we are doing absolutely everything that we can to assure residents about what the situation is.”
DeWine said the plume of contaminants making its way down the Ohio River is not posing any danger to local water supplies. Still, the city of Cincinnati announced water intakes will be closed before any detectable levels of chemicals get to the city. They say they don't think the levels of the contaminants that have been detected in the Ohio River pose a threat to residents' health, but the decision has been made out of an abundance of caution.
Some people near East Palestine have reported the deaths of pets or livestock. Authorities said it is important that veterinarians be contacted in those cases so the state veterinarian can do necropsies to determine the causes of death.
DeWine said the situation does not meet guidelines to get assistance from FEMA at this time. But he said the state is filing a document with the agency so that it can access assistance at any point in the future if the situations change.
DeWine said Norfolk Southern is responsible for this situation and has pledged to stay on site to help with the cleanup, and that the state will hold the railroad accountable. And he suggested the company make its leaders available to answer questions from the community. Norfolk Southern pulled out of an opportunity to be part of a town hall with residents earlier this week, citing concerns about threats to officials’ safety.