East Palestine community meeting exposes new questions about toxic chemicals near derailment site

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:18 PM EST
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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WOIO) - The East Palestine community is still desperate for answers following the massive train derailment nearly three weeks ago.

On Thursday evening a local nonprofit held a community meeting that exposed some new questions about toxic chemicals near the derailment site.

“I’m watching my entire family, my community, and my best friends be poisoned slowly,” said Jamie Cozza, an organizer with River Valley Organizing.

Cozza said after the evacuation order was lifted, she was told it was safe to go home. She said she pushed for officials to test not only her air but her water and soil, which changed things.

“Because I was persistent and because I used my voice, I got the railroad to come to my house to send a toxicologist there who deemed my house unsafe to be in,” Cozza explained. “They offered us money all relocation cost, but we weren’t gonna do that. We weren’t gonna leave our community behind. If they were wrong about my house, they could be wrong about your house. If my kids deserve to be safe, your kids deserve to be safe.”

Studio 25 in downtown East Palestine was packed to the brim Thursday for a community meeting hosted by local nonprofit River Valley Organizing. The community was able to ask questions to a panel of environmental, health, and legal experts including Stephen Lester a scientist with the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.

“When you burn a chemical like vinyl chloride you generate dioxins, there’s like 75 of these dioxins,” Lester explained. “One of them is the most toxic chemical ever tested in the United States,

Lester said one of the biggest dangers for the community is the dioxins that he believes are present in the soil in East Palestine. It’s something Governor DeWine has pushed for the EPA to test for. Two days ago, the head of the EPA said he was not sure if they were testing for the carcinogen dioxin.

Retired Mahoning County Hazmat Chief Sil Caggiano says the controlled burn never should have happened.

“What they did was they took a potential and they made it a for sure,” Caggiano said. “I call it the laboratory experiment from hell because we basically dumped a ton of chemicals into a pit and burned them off because anybody whose been in chemistry knows when you do that you don’t know what you’re gonna get when you’re done.”

Some residents were at their breaking point like one man at the meeting with his baby who he doesn’t know how to keep safe.

“I’m ready to throw everything out of my house, throw gas in it and light it on fire. I’m tired of this,” he relented.

The nonprofit said they are working with different universities who are planning to come in and do some independent testing free water and soil testing. They are planning on starting with the first responders and then it will open to the general public.