Health clinic to open for Ohio residents hit by toxic train derailment

A dark grey cloud rolls over East Palestine, Ohio
Residents have complained of headaches and sore throats since the accident on 3 February

Officials in East Palestine, Ohio, are opening a health clinic for residents after a train accident sparked health fears.

A Norfolk Southern train derailed in the midwestern town on 3 February, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Since then, residents have reported headaches, nausea, burning eyes and sore throats.

The clinic will offer nurses, mental health specialists and a toxicologist, Ohio's Department of Heath says.

Frustrated residents say they have been unable to get clear answers from officials regarding the safety of the town following the disaster.

They point to contradictory advice from officials and various agencies, some of which have claimed local water sources are safe while others have advised drinking bottled water.

About 3,500 fish died off in the nearby creeks after the accident, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Some residents have reported sick pets and dying chickens. Others have spoken of experiencing psychological trauma.

Among the chemicals released in the incident was vinyl chloride, a colourless, hazardous gas that is used to make PVC plastic and vinyl products. It is also a known carcinogen. Acute exposure is linked to dizziness, drowsiness and headaches, while prolonged exposure can cause liver damage and a rare form of liver cancer.

Representatives from the train company Norfolk Southern skipped a town hall meeting last week, where they had been scheduled to answer residents' questions. The company said it was concerned for the safety of its representatives.

Instead, Congressman Bill Johnson faced the seething crowd. "If you've got ailments and conditions that you did not have before 3 February, go to your doctor," he told them. "Get that documented."

Ohio Department of Health director Bruce Vanderhoff said he encouraged anyone with medical concerns or questions to attend the clinic, which opens on Tuesday.

"I heard you, the state heard you, and now the Ohio Department of Health and many of our partner agencies are providing this clinic, where people can come and discuss these vital issues with medical providers," he said in a statement.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also weighed in on Sunday with a letter sent to Norfolk Southern's CEO, Alan Shaw. He called on the company to "demonstrate unequivocal support for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding areas".

The derailment upended residents' lives, he said, "many of whom continue to worry about their immediate health as well as the long-term effects of the dangerous materials released".

"They fear for their future, as do thousands of American communities and neighbourhoods that sit along railway lines," Buttigieg said.