Brockovich: Train derailment sparks water quality concerns

(NewsNation) — A number of East Palestine residents have reached out to consumer advocate Erin Brockovich with environmental concerns following the Ohio train derailment, she said in an interview with NewsNation.

Brockovich told NewsNation she’s received at least 100 emails about Ohio so far, with some of the residents telling her the fish in local bodies of water are dying.

Last Friday, a train of about 50 freight cars going from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, derailed in East Palestine. Ten of the cars contained hazardous materials, prompting evacuation orders that lasted from Sunday to Wednesday.

Federal investigators say the fiery crash was caused by a mechanical issue with a rail car axle.

There were no injuries reported as a result of the train derailment, although some have complained of smelling chlorine or smoke, which led to headaches.

Authorities warned the burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the derailed cars could send hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air.

A representative with the Environmental Protection Agency said monitoring has shown unconcerning levels and that the air quality is safe.

But some have questions about water after NewsNation local affiliate WKBN reported residents found dead fish in streams nearby the site of the accident. Newsnation also obtained video of dead fish in the Ohio river near East Palestine.  

 “We knew at the onset of this incident there was impact to Sulfur Creek and waters of the state of Ohio. Since that point in time, we have been able to successfully control that runoff and contain the water and… treat it in place, along with a robust sampling program for the water quality,” Kurt Kollar of the Ohio EPA told WKBN.

It’s possible the pollution lowered dissolved oxygen levels in the water, basically suffocating the fish, but that hasn’t been confirmed, according to Wildlife Officer Supervisor Scott Angelo.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will still need to evaluate what caused the fish to die, which could take up to a month while the agency deals with the emergency response.

“Given the circumstances of where the kill originated, it would seem highly likely that it is associated with the incident,” Angelo said.

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said during a press conference that officials would start checking wells in the affected areas Friday.

The public water system is regulated by the Ohio EPA, which sampled the water and found it met safe drinking water criteria, according to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson James Lee.

When it comes to water systems in the area, there are three types: surface water, public water — which people drink and use — and private wells, Lee added. Streams like Little Beaver Creek, where some dead fish were found, are considered surface water, while the public drinking water wells in East Palestine use groundwater as their source.

“Ohio EPA Division of Drinking and Groundwaters remains engaged with our local public water systems,” Lee said. “We believe those systems will not be impacted by this incident. We’ll consider local groundwater protection plans as part of the remediation phase.”

Officials said bottled water will be provided to residents who don’t feel comfortable drinking the water at this time.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Friday, Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Brockovich said while the EPA says it’s monitoring the situation, and the evacuation order has been lifted, more investigation needs to be done.

“Come on, it’s vinyl chloride, it’s in the air, the fish are dying, really? Does that give you comfort that ‘Maybe I should be in this area?’ Probably not,” she said.

The consumer advocate says anyone on the ground who doesn’t feel safe should make moves to protect themselves.

“If you feel unsafe, then please get out of harm’s way,” she said. “If you feel unsafe, stay sheltered in place.”

NewsNation local affiliate WKBN contributed to this article.


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