EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WJW) — Hundreds began lining up early for an event at East Palestine High School.
They came concerned about their safety and hoped for answers after the Norfolk Southern train derailment and release of toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil.
“Everybody wants to know what the hell is in the air; in the water. I want to know what I sucked into my lungs,” said Ted Murphy. “It’s stressing me. That made me go to the hospital.”
Tables with representatives from agencies including the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency were set up to help residents, but the format was changed as the crowd clearly became agitated with the arrangements.
“We’re gonna have everybody go up in the stands and they can ask questions. We just hope everybody stays civil,” said Mayor Trent Conaway.
The gymnasium stands were packed. One after another, people asked questions about their properties, the air and water supply.
Representatives from Norfolk Southern were supposed to attend the event but canceled, citing concerns for their safety.
“They’re worried about their safety — when they put everybody here in danger. We’re worried about our safety,” said Linda Murphy.
At the forum, the EPA promised to stay in the area “as long as necessary.”
Earlier in the day, the Ohio EPA said tests on the five wells that feed the city’s water supply showed no contaminants.
But residents question the results and wonder about their own private wells after it was confirmed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that more than 3,500 fish died, and that the soil near the accident site was contaminated.
Some pets and livestock have also fallen ill or died.
“I’ve watched everything dying,” said Ted Murphy. “I live here. I hunt. I fish. That’s what I do. Go down there today and step on a rock and you can watch the oil come up from under the rocks.”
Other town hall-style meetings were held earlier in the day at the American Legion.
Attorney Grant MacKay who is from East Palestine and whose family lives in town, arranged the event, bringing in doctors, lawyers and contamination experts with the nationally recognized firm MotleyRice.
“Knowing what was in the train and hearing concerns of folks here and seeing residual effects on wildlife, livestock and pets, I think caution is the better part of valor here, absolutely,” said attorney Vincent Greene.
People were advised on how to proceed with health and property concerns.
On Thursday, the head of the U.S. EPA plans to travel to East Palestine. Also, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator.
Despite that, people said it’s abundantly clear that East Palestine is facing some difficult times.
“Nobody wants to live next to a disaster zone,” said Robert Funk.