Erin Brockovich urges East Palestine residents to document health conditions as some diagnosed with bronchitis
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich urged residents in East Palestine, Ohio to documents any health effects they are experiencing following the devastating train derailment that was carrying hazardous chemicals. Some residents this month say they have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other conditions that doctors and nurses suspect are linked to the chemical exposure.
"You need to be vigilant you need to journal, you need to document information," Brockovich said to a room full of residents in a town hall meeting on Friday, Feb. 24. "I will be talking tonight because we want you to get information that you can take home, so you're better informed, so you have a better understanding."
The train derailment with 50 rail cars, 10 of which were carrying vinyl chloride, caused hazardous chemicals to spill onto the ground and sent a plume of smoke into the air. In the aftermath of the ecological disaster, residents in East Palestine began experiencing symptoms that many attribute to the chemical spill.
Melissa Blake, who lives within a mile of the crash site, told NBC News that she started coughing up gray mucus and was struggling to breathe just two days following the devastating crash. Blake went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with "acute bronchitis due to chemical fumes," according to medical records reviewed by the news outlet. "They gave me a breathing machine. They put me on oxygen. They gave me three types of steroids," Blake said.
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Blake isn't the only experiencing firsthand the health impacts from the chemical spill with other residents sharing similar stories about the health impacts from the hazardous chemicals.
Lisa Fulton, who lives by the scene of the derailment, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that she has felt symptoms following the derailment.
"I saw the fire come right down the tracks," she told the Cincinnati Enquirer following Brockovich's event on Friday. "I've had a sore throat and some tightness in my chest. And I've been wheezing because I have asthma."
LuAnn Krause, a nurse practitioner, is concerned about the effect the chemicals will have on children.
"Their bodies are forming, their blood cells are forming, their bone marrow is forming" she told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "And they're at risk for leukemia."
A nearby manufacturing plant shared with NBC News that five of their ten employees were unable to come to work. General manager Howard Yang said that his workers were, "dropping like flies" following the train derailment.
"People ended up with rashes, nausea, vomiting, bloody nose, eye issues. A lot of coughing, wheezing," he said. "We sent a lot of workers to the hospital to get checked out and, sure enough, in most cases, it was a diagnosis of ‘chemical bronchitis.’ They were put on five different kinds of pills, including steroids. Some guys have to use inhalers. It’s pretty bad."
Deborah Weese, a nurse practitioner at Quickmed Columbiana — one of closest urgent care clinics to East Palestine — said that she is diagnosing 5-10 individuals a day who have symptoms consistent with chemical exposure.
"They’re complaining of burning to their lungs, nasal drainage, eyes burning, throat pain, unknown rashes that have started since they’ve been back to their homes."
In Friday's town hall, Brockovich empathized with the 2,700 residents who packed into the East Palestine High School gymnasium. The activist warned residents saying "you want to be heard, but you’re going to be told it’s safe; you’re going to be told not to worry," she said. "That’s just rubbish because you’re going to worry. Communities want to be seen and heard."
"These chemicals take time to move in the water. You’re going to need groundwater monitoring. People on well water: You really need to be on alert. They’re going to need to implement soil vapor intrusion modeling. Believe us. It’s coming," she said.
"You start getting 50 and 100,000 p------off moms together — I’m telling you right now: Things change," she said.
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"You have the ability to become — and you will become — your own critical thinker." Brockovich continued. "You will vet information; you will ask questions, you demand answers. You will listen to that gut and that instinct that will keep you connected as a community," she said. "Don’t let what’s happened here divide you."
Stanley Steemer worker Paul Goist told WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh that they’ve seen an increase in calls for air duct cleaning.
"We are seeing a lot of debris," Goist told WPXI. "We use a medical-grade disinfectant called Vital Oxide, that we push through the system…and the fogging machine, we go from vent to vent…anything inside the system gets destroyed."
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The EPA announced a new hotline for residents and businesses to help provide various services, including guidance for accessing ongoing air monitoring, water sampling, as well as information about scheduling cleaning services. Those seeking assistance can contact 866-361-0526 from 8 am to 8 pm EST.
Fox News' Kristen Altus contributed to this report.