CDC Investigators Asking East Palestine Residents About Their Health Suffered the Same Symptoms
In another sign that all is not right in East Palestine, Ohio, following February’s train derailment and release of toxic chemicals, members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) team sent to investigate the health impacts of the disaster themselves fell ill.
The CDC confirmed to CNN on Thursday that seven members of a 15-person team making house visits near the site of the derailment reported symptoms including sore throats, headaches, coughing and nausea — the same symptoms that residents also say they experienced following the incident that released more than one million pounds of dangerous chemicals into the surrounding air, soil and water.
“It adds confirmation that the symptoms reported by East Palestine residents are real and are associated with environmental exposures from the derailment and chemical fire,” George Washington University School of Public Health professor and epidemiologist and head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2009 to 2017 David Michaels, who is not involved with the investigation, told CNN.
Since the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train forced evacuations and released toxins including the carcinogenic plastic-production chemical vinyl chloride, East Palestine residents have complained of health problems. A survey released by the Ohio Department of Health March 3 found that 74 percent of respondents in the vicinity reported headaches, 64 percent reported anxiety, 61 percent reported coughing, 58 percent reported fatigue and 52 percent reported feelings of pain, burning or irritation, as WKYC reported at the time. In late February, QUICKmed Urgent Care staff in Columbiana, Ohio, told WKBN that they had seen multiple patients complaining of rashes, weakness and a burning feeling when breathing. These symptoms would often lessen when the patients left their homes and increase when they returned.
“This could be a lot of things, but if you’re leaving your house and [symptoms] improve, and you go back and it comes back, I’m not thinking that’s allergies or not thinking it’s a cold,” Deb Weese of QUICKmed said at the time. “I think it’s related to that stuff you’re inhaling there.”
The incident with the CDC employees occurred March 6, as CNN reported. Members of a team belonging to the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, who were going door to door asking residents near the derailment about their symptoms, began to experience symptoms themselves and told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety officer who was on site at the time. The officer advised the seven members of the team who were sick to return to their hotel room in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, that night. They also worked from their rooms the next day.
“Symptoms resolved for most team members later the same afternoon, and everyone resumed work on survey data collection within 24 hours. Impacted team members have not reported ongoing health effects,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.
The CDC incident followed another, similar occurrence in February in which two EPA contractors experienced symptoms after exposure to strong odors and told the site safety officer. The officer told them to remove themselves from the area for a moment, after which they felt better and continued to work the same day.
Questions continue to circulate about the derailment and the government and railway’s response. The EPA’s internal watchdog has launched an investigation into the agency’s handling of the situation after complaints from the community, especially after delay and confusion around testing for dioxins. The community has also brought a class action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, and both the state of Ohio and the Department of Justice have filed complaints, as The Hill reported.
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