Independent Analysis By Texas A & M University of Environmental Protection Agency Data, Released Friday, Found Nine Air Pollutants at levels that could raise long-term health concerns in and around East Palestine
Wade Lovett’s been having trouble breathing since the Feb. 3 Norfolk South train derailment and toxic explosion here. In fact, his voice sounds as if he’s been inhaling helium.
“Doctors say I definitely have the chemicals in me but there’s no one in town who can run the toxicological tests to find out which ones they are,” Lovett, 40, an auto detailer, said in an extremely high-pitched voice. “My voice sounds like Mickey Mouse. My normal voice is low. It’s hard to breathe, especially at night. My chest hurts so much at night I feel like I’m drowning. I cough up phlegm a lot. I lost my job because the doctor won’t release me to go to work.”
Despite his health woes, Lovett and his fiancée, Tawnya Irwin, 45, spent last Thursday delivering bottled water to locals. They picked up new cases outside a home on East Clark Street which has become the heart of East Palestine’s homegrown campaign to fight back against the forces that upended the lives of roughly 4,700 residents and their animals.
Leading the charge to fight for the community is 46-year-old Jami Cozza, a lifelong East Palestinian who counts 47 close relatives here. Many of them are facing health issues from the chemical fire as well as the psychic toll of their town becoming, in the words of a scientist visiting the area Thursday, the new “Love Canal” — a reference to the Niagara Falls, NY, neighborhood that became a hotbed issue in 1978 because people were getting sick from living above a contaminated waste dump.
Cozza, 46, who’s lived in this small Ohio Valley village near the Pennsylvania border for most of her life, has her work cut out for her.
Her eyes fill with tears when she talks about how her 91-year-old widowed grandmother tried to clean the chemicals off the furniture in the house she’s lived in for 56 years — before giving up and moving to a hotel room where she can’t sleep at night.
Evacuation orders were lifted on February 8, but many locals say they got unexplained rashes and sore throats when they returned home. The creeks that dot the town still ripple with the telltale rainbow color of contamination if you throw a rock in them.
An independent analysis by Texas A & M University of Environmental Protection Agency data, released Friday, found nine air pollutants at levels that could raise long-term health concerns in and around East Palestine, apparently contradicting statements by state and federal regulators that the air there is safe.
“My fiancé was so sick that I almost took him to the hospital,” Cozza told The Post while sitting on the porch of her aunt’s home on East Clark Street a few hours before she led her own town hall meeting Thursday.
“Not only am I fighting for my family’s life, but I feel like I’m fighting for the whole town’s life. When I’m walking around hearing these stories, they’re not from people. They’re from my family. They’re from my friends that I’ve have grown up with,” she said. “People are desperate right now. We’re dying slowly. They’re poisoning us slowly.”
A big part of Jami and the town’s battle involves questions over whether Norfolk Southern’s decision to effectively nuke the town with deadly chemicals in what they called a “controlled explosion” was the correct one — or if they were just cheaper than cleaning up the mess on the ground.
A spokesman for Norfolk Southern told The Post that the company consulted experts including Gov. Mike DeWine after discovering, two days after the crash, that the pressure relief devices in one train car had stopped working. He also said it had to take action in the form of a controlled burn to avoid what the company called a potential “catastrophic failure of the cars.”
But there are many who wonder if there was a better way.
“The company’s decision was very suspicious,” Rene Rocha of the Morgan & Morgan law firm and one of the lead attorneys on the class-action case told The Post. “Norfolk Southern discharged more vinyl chloride into a small area in eastern Ohio in a day than the entire industries combined of America discharge in a year.”
Stephen Lester, a Harvard-trained toxicologist at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice with 40 years of experience, said the hot zone at East Palestine was among the most concerning he has ever seen — and stressed the dangers of the chemical dioxin that was released during the controlled burn and that will be embedded in the soil and water.
“Until the government takes this seriously there are going to be real problems,” Lester said. “It’s criminal that the EPA didn’t come forward with information about dioxin and start testing for it.”