Pets and wildlife — including an estimated 3,500 fish — are dying in the wake of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, according to reports, as residents become more worried the spill could have long-term effects on their health.
A train carrying 20 cars containing hazardous chemicals derailed on Feb. 3 with 10 of the cars toppling over, spilling noxious chemicals into the air and water supply. Five of the cars were carrying toxic vinyl chloride, which was subsequently burned to prevent an explosion.
“We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open,” hazardous materials specialist Sil Caggiano told local outlet WKBN, adding some of the other hazardous materials spilled in the train crash are dangerous to humans.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has estimated 3,500 fish died across 7.5 miles of streams in the first five days after the burn.
Local fox and chicken keepers have also reported their animals becoming sluggish, losing feathers and dying — some miles away from the crash site.
Ohio Humane Society officials are being flooded with sick animal calls.
“My phone is just going all day,” Columbiana County Humane Society Executive Director Teresa McGuire told the Herald-Star.
These families have already been through enough,” McGuire told the outlet. “We’re in a scrappy, blue-collar community. Some people already had to pay for food and hotels while they were displaced. Now they have to pay for vet bills.”
McGuire said most complaints she began collecting two days ago are reporting lethargic or visibly ill animals, but some are relaying fatalities.
McGuire said she has received unconfirmed reports of chickens and dogs bearing what appear to be chemical burns.
Should pets die, McGuire added to The Herald: “I would ask people to please go to their vets to get a necropsy,” to determine the exact cause of death.
There have also been some anecdotal reports of residents suffering severe headaches and wooziness in the wreck’s hellish wake, as well as sore throats.
“Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek,” Cathey Reese, who lives in the region told WPXI Pittsburgh. Reese said she saw dead fish in a stream that flows through her backyard.
Another local resident Jenna Giannios, said she is drinking only bottled water and has developed a cough since the burn.
“I’m concerned with the long-term heath impact. It’s just a mess,” she told NBC.
The National Cancer Institute has previously linked long term exposure to vinyl chloride with forms of liver cancer, brain and lung cancers.
Meanwhile, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency obtained by CBS News indicate that more potentially dangerous chemicals were spilled than originally thought.
The train cars were also transporting butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, all of which carry health risks, according to the report.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that it will release a preliminary report on the disaster in two weeks.
The immediate area was evacuated due to the emission of dangerous chemicals including vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — who has been criticized by some for a lax response to the accident and its aftermath — tweeted about the derailment Tuesday.
“As NTSB conducts its investigation and EPA works to keep residents safe, our Federal Rail and Pipeline and Hazardous Material teams will continue to offer support,” he wrote.
State officials have sought to reassure residents that they are monitoring air quality and that there is not the direct threat posed by the derailment.
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture is assuring Ohioans its food supply is safe and the risk to livestock remains low following the East Palestine train derailment,” the statement read. “ODA has not received any official reports regarding the wellness of animals related to the incident.”
The Greater Cincinnati Water Works issued a statement saying although chemicals leaked into the Ohio River, it will likely have no impact on the drinking water for its 1.1 million customers.
A spokesperson reassured no vinyl chloride had been detected in the water as it was mostly burned up and said they are conducting tests for other chemicals too.