Committee to study health effects of East Palestine train derailment for future research

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (KDKA) – A new committee has been formed, made up of people who don’t want the East Palestine train derailment to be forgotten.

The group is working to gather information on physical and mental health effects to improve research efforts.

East Taggart Street in East Palestine reopened this week; the train had been closed since the Feb. 3 derailment. Repairs are progressing, with major excavation and soil work nearing completion at the site of the train derailment, but concerns for the people of east Palestine remain.

Nearly nine months ago, a train derailment in East Palestine shocked the country and put people’s health at risk.

“It’s critical that we don’t think of train derailments as something of the past, that it’s in the past,” said Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.

Lichtveld is a member of a new committee formed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. That includes environmental health scientists, epidemiologists, first responders and community leaders, she said.

They’re listening to the health concerns of people living in and around small Ohio towns and examining questions that remain unanswered.

“We have to be concerned about people’s health, and some of the chemicals that were leaked may have effects 10, 20 years later, so our derailment is not over yet,” Dr. Lichtveld said.

Health issues and questions for future research will be the focus of a virtual community-engaged workshop on November 6-7.

After the derailment, toxic chemicals inside some cars were deliberately burned, sending plumes of smoke over the town near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

“Listen to the community and what their concerns are so we can do a lot of things… One, we can focus on the exposures that the community is still concerned about that they’ve been exposed and they still have symptoms. Number two , learning comes from communities as we go into the future, and the question as we go into the future is that we still don’t have answers to, so what is the research mix,” said Dr. Lichtveld.

“How do we track the health of neighborhoods and communities over time? And third, what do we need to learn now so we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future.”

Dr. Lichtveld has been working on responding to natural and man-made disasters since 9/11. She spent two decades at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responding to Hurricane Katrina.

Several listening sessions have been held prior to the November workshop. Dr. Lichtveld co-leads a campaign focusing on children’s issues.

“It’s still a concern for themselves, for their health, and especially for the children, just like Katrina is with you for a long time,” she said.

Committee members will put their findings together and submit them to the project’s sponsors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their summary will be used for potential future research.

“My motto has always been to put science at the service of the community, and this workshop will do that in a unique way,” Lichtveld said.

The final listening session before the November workshop will be held on Thursday, October 26, from 6 to 7 pm at East Palestine High School and online. The registration link can be found here.

Registration is also required for the virtual workshops on November 6 and 7. The link can be found here. Anyone can attend listening sessions and workshops.

There is also an online review portal, accessible through this link .

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