CDC Investigators Got Sick While Probing Toxic Train Derailment

(Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials investigating potential health concerns in a small Ohio town impacted by a toxic train derailment became ill during their study, a CDC official confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Seven CDC members reported sore throats, headaches, coughing and nausea while in East Palestine, Ohio, weeks after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in early February and a controlled burn leaked hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, into the environment, Belsie González, CDC senior public affairs specialist, told the DCNF. The CDC members’ symptoms are consistent with health complaints reported by residents and first responders. (RELATED: Rail Union Reports Sickness, Safety Concerns At Ohio Train Derailment Site)

“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,” González said.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a branch that specializes in health impacts after toxic chemical exposure, sent a 15 person team to East Palestine to conduct a door-to-door survey about resident and pet symptoms, according to CNN. The members worked 18-hour days in teams of two or three in areas near two creeks polluted by the chemicals, but the official cause of their reported symptoms is not confirmed.

The affected team members reported the symptoms to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) on-site safety officer and were advised to return to their hotel located 30-miles from the derailment, CNN reported. The members worked from the hotel on March 7 and CDC officials told CNN that team members normally rotated out of the area after they completed their work.

Toxic chemicals float on the surface of Leslie Run creek on February 24, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.

EAST PALESTINE, OH – FEBRUARY 24: Toxic chemicals float on the surface of Leslie Run creek on February 24, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

The investigators’ symptoms were not reported to the public since they improved shortly after leaving the area and personal illnesses are not normally disclosed, CNN reported.

“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,” David Michaels, a George Washington University School of Public Health professor, told CNN.

Michaels ran the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from 2009 to 2017.

The health reports conflict with repeated assurances by government officials that the air, soil and water quality are not at levels of concern. The EPA has conducted 623 indoor screenings and detected no sign of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride, according to a March 29 update sent to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Likewise, the EPA reported that soil sampling was performed at 115 properties in Ohio and Pennsylvania and preliminary reports show “levels of semi-volatile organic chemicals and dioxins in the samples are similar to typical background levels.” The Ohio EPA says that “no chemicals associated with the derailment have been detected in either raw or treated water,” according to its website.

East Palestine residents mostly reported experiencing headaches, anxiety, coughing, fatigue or tiredness and skin irritation or pain, according to the results of an Ohio Department of Health survey released in March. First responders reported stuffy noses and congestion, runny noses, increased congestion and phlegm, burning noses or throats and hoarseness.

The CDC did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment. Michaels declined to comment.

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