Officials up estimate of animals killed by Ohio derailment to nearly 44,000

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has upped its estimate for the number of animals killed by the derailment of train cars carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, to nearly 44,000.

The department estimates around 38,222 minnows were killed by the derailment within a 5-mile span, plus around 5,500 other species, including other small fish, amphibians, crayfish and macroinvertebrates, ODNR Director Mary Merks said in a statement.

The original estimate was approximately 3,500 dead aquatic species, based on observations from Feb. 6-7, shortly after the Feb. 3 derailment. ODNR’s team responded to the waterways the morning after the spill, but were warned by the Ohio EPA “that it was too dangerous to enter the water without specialized gear and equipment.”

Several of the 38 Norfolk Southern train cars that derailed in East Palestine earlier this month carried vinyl chloride, a hazardous and potentially cancer-causing chemical used in plastics production.

To avert an explosion, the chemicals were burned in an attempted “controlled release,” further stoking environmental concerns about the quality of the local land, air and water following the incident.

Although dead animals remain in the waterways affected by the chemical spill, Merks underscored that the animals are believed to have been killed “immediately after the derailment” and noted that live fish have since been observed returning to parts of the area.

“Because the chemicals were contained, we haven’t seen any additional signs of aquatic life suffering,” Merks said. She also noted no dead aquatic life was observed in the nearby Ohio River.

The ODNR estimate is based on a collected sample of dead aquatic species, and the department says it doesn’t believe any of the affected animals were endangered.

“We are awaiting test results of several non-aquatic animals including three birds, and an opossum,” Merks said. “We do not believe any of these animals were made sick by the train derailment, but we have submitted those specimens to the Ohio Department of Agriculture and will wait for those test results before making that judgement.”

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