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Health Centers Responded to East Palestine Train Derailment

Health Center staff from two states offered help to residents when a freight train carrying dangerous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, 2023.

About 50 cars on the Norfolk Southern train, some of them carrying hazardous materials, derailed, igniting a fire that spewed chemicals and smoke into the air.

The derailment, close to the border with Pennsylvania, initially resulted in evacuations from the area as officials assessed the damage.  Although no serious initial injuries emerged, many area residents were alarmed by the incident and concerned about the possible effects on their health.

Some first responders reported problems with irritated eyes and coughs, but they quickly recovered, said Dr. George Garrow, CEO at Primary Health Network in Pennsylvania.

His health center sent a mobile unit to Pennsylvania’s Darlington Township, close to East Palestine, for three weeks following the derailment.  The center already had both staff and patients who lived in East Palestine, and the mobile unit received more people who had questions about how exposure to the smoke might affect them.  Although patients reported no acute injuries, anxiety about the possible long-term effects of the incident was rampant, Garrow said.  

Tom Andrews, CEO of the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County Ohio, which runs several health centers in the area, said the centers assessed about 325 people in the aftermath of the derailment.  Although some people reported related physical problems, there was more demand for mental health services.  Andrews said local health providers believe that testing for long-term effects from chemical exposure will be needed for at least 20 years.

He lauded the efforts of volunteers and government agencies that worked together to help those affected by the derailment.  “There was so much help that poured into this community.”