An Ohio train derailment prompted officials to conduct a "controlled release" of chemicals onboard.
A week later, local streams were full of dead fish and chickens have been found dead in their coop.
Officials said those who use private well water in the region should seek testing.
A woman in North Lima, roughly 11 miles away from the village of East Palestine, where the crash occurred, checked on her chicken coop on February 7 only to find her five hens and rooster laying lifeless, with no sign of a predator entering their enclosure.
"I'm beyond upset and quite panicked, 'cause this, they may be just chickens, but they're family," Amanda Breshears told local news outlet ABC27 WHTM.
Local officials said during a Tuesday press conference that most drinking water in the region is safe to drink. However, residents with private water sources were instructed to drink bottled water until the state can confirm the safety of their water source. The state Environmental Protection Agency is also monitoring air quality and indicated there is no reason for concern. But Breshears and other Ohio residents aren't fully convinced.
"My video camera footage shows my chickens were perfectly fine before they started this burn, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died," Breshears said. "If it can do this to chickens in one night, imagine what it's going to do to us in 20 years."
In addition to domesticated animals possibly suffering from the toxin exposure, locals have reported seeing streams full of dead fish in recent days. An official with the Ohio EPA confirmed toxic material had entered the waterways after the burn and killed fish but reiterated that drinking water is safe and air contaminant levels are not currently cause for concern.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday they had counted approximately 3,500 dead fish in four nearby waterways. In early sampling in the immediate days following the Feb. 3 crash, officials counted deaths among 12 different species, none of which are currently listed as endangered or threatened. Officials said they haven't noted any increase in the number of dead fish in recent days.
Onboard the train — which derailed in a fiery crash earlier this month — were highly flammable hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, used to create a polymer that forms a popular plastic. Worried that the materials could explode, sending deadly shrapnel flying up to a mile through the air, officials conducted a "controlled release" of the chemicals and burnt them, sending a toxic cloud of black smoke into the air.
Rail crews released the chemical by drilling a small hole into the tank car, an official with the railroad told local outlet WKYC.
"This will allow the material to come out of the tank car," Scott Deutsch, a Norfolk Southern Railroad official, said on Monday, prior to the fire, according to WKYC. "It will go into a pit and trench that we have dug and set up for this operation. Inside that trench will be flares lining that trench that then will light off the material."
Representatives from the East Palestine village council and the Ohio Governor's office did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.
Breshears' chickens weren't the only fatalities locals are attributing to the burn. Taylor Holzer, an East Palestine resident who rescues foxes, told Newsweek all four of his animals are experiencing signs of chemical exposure. One rescue fox had such severe symptoms it died before it could receive treatment.
"He went downhill very fast," Holzer said, adding that the fox had symptoms including diarrhea and breathing issues. "He crashed so fast and unexpectedly. He wasn't able to blink or function properly as he died in my arms."
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Officials with the Ohio Department of Agriculture said they haven't seen any widespread symptoms among community livestock to cause concern about how the chemicals may be impacting animals. A state veterinarian told reporters that any residents with dead animals should first call their private veterinarian to seek guidance and consultation.
Kurt Rhoads, an environmental engineer and associate professor at Care Western Reserve University, told local news outlet Cleveland 19 that the impact of the chemicals will be measured for years to come as they seep into the groundwater and likely impact wells used for drinking.
"If I try to make a scale of things you would not want to have in a derailed, toppled-over rail car that's leaking and burning this is also near the top of that list," Rhodes said. "I can think of some worse things but I would put it at a seven or an eight."
While the animal deaths initially alarmed residents, human health problems are also beginning to appear, even among residents who initially evacuated the area.
Chelsea Simpson, who lives near the site of the derailment, told The New Republic she has had a sore throat since the burn, and her 8-month-old baby has suffered respiratory issues that are being treated with a steroid. Simpson said her eyes were bloodshot and burning after visiting her home for just 10 minutes a few days ago, and she has yet to return.
"Re-entry air screenings are underway," read a Monday statement by the EPA sent to Insider. "As of yesterday evening, 291 homes have been screened. To date, no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified for the completed screened homes."
There are 181 homes in the area that have yet to be screened. It remains unclear whether the burn will have long-term effects on the environment or residents of the region, and residents are concerned over the limited information released so far.
"It kinda sucks we're all getting the majority of our information from fellow residents on Facebook," East Palestine local Liz Smith told The New Republic. "So it's hard to tell what's true or not."
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