EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (NewsNation) — As Norfolk Southern continues to promise relief to East Palestine residents, some in the area are forced to entertain the idea of selling their homes in precarious economic times.
Over the weekend, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was in the Ohio community apologizing and promising to make things right after the Feb. 3 train derailment and subsequent “controlled release” of toxic chemicals that was conducted to reopen the railroad. Residents have since reported incidents including dead animals near the derailment site as well as rashes, which they are blaming on the hazardous chemicals released into the air and water.
“I just want you to understand that I am terribly sorry for what happened to this community,” Shaw said Sunday, more than two weeks after the derailment.
Shaw, who owns more than 34,000 shares of Norfolk Southern stock, valued at nearly $8 million and an Atlanta home valued at more than $4 million, has attempted to reassure the community. But it’s doing little for community members whose primary investment is their home.
And it’s that investment that is making many of them uneasy.
Steve McCay, who has lived in East Palestine for 11 years, says he no longer feels safe in the area and is getting ready to sell his home in a down market.
“I’m certainly going to attempt (to sell the home). Even at that, am I going to feel bad trying to sell it to anyone that’s going to move in here? Are they going to be the wiser? Are they going to suffer long-term effects,” he wondered.
McCay lives just 1,200 feet from the crash site, where toxic chemicals have leeched into the air and water. He’s worried about his health and the health of his family and community. He said he has no plans to bring his children, a 5-year-old and an infant, back to their home.
“ … Known carcinogens, nervous system issues, infertility,” he said of the chemicals and their side effects. “What kind of parent would I be if I didn’t protect my kids?”
Another East Palestine resident, Ted Murphy, is considering the same.
“My house is packed — just waiting to be moved,” he said.
With the long-term effects of the chemical spill unknown, the community is unlikely to rebound anytime soon.
Dave McIntire, a realtor in East Palestine, said he hasn’t yet seen a seismic housing shift but is preparing for inevitable, big changes.
“Obviously there has been a lot of change in the real estate market, it’s (the derailment that’s) going to affect it — it’s just going to.”
Shaw and Norfolk Southern, however, are trying to strike a more optimistic tone.
“Anybody who wants an air test, call and you’re going to get it,” Shaw said Sunday. “Anyone who wants bottled water, call and they are going to get it.”
McCay doesn’t think that promise is nearly enough.
“What are you going to do to replace a town’s entire drinking water?” he said. Norfolk Southern “should make an effort outside of what they have done so far.”
Now, he’s forced to think about a future he hadn’t planned.
“I just got done remodeling my kitchen, my bathroom windows and staircase,” McCay said. “It wasn’t like I had plans to go anywhere; I had plans to stay here. This is home. Now, I’m trying to figure out where we go from here.”