The Norfolk Southern 100-car train derailment and subsequent toxic chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio, caused nearly half of the U.S. government investigators to experience symptoms of illness while studying the health impacts, authorities said.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNN last week that seven of the 15-member crew, which included members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, began feeling symptoms while surveying town residents’ homes near the contaminated areas.
“Symptoms resolved for most team members later the same afternoon, and everyone resumed work on survey data collection within 24 hours,” a CDC spokesperson told the network. “Impacted team members have not reported ongoing health effects.”
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of substances on the vehicle. Five of those train cars emitted vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, and formed massive plumes of black smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Residents have since raised the alarm over health symptoms they experienced after the controlled burn.
Before working from their hotels, some group members began experiencing sore throats, headaches, coughing, and nausea, which mirrored the symptoms reported by many of the town’s residents near the derailment site.
Federal officials did not disclose what caused investigators to experience such symptoms.
Two contractors from the Environmental Protection Agency out of 100 personnel working on the derailment also reported health symptoms after working in areas where the chemicals created strong odors.
The Ohio Department of Health published the results of surveys conducted at its East Palestine Health Assessment Clinic, plus door-to-door visits by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, four weeks after the chemical catastrophe permeated the town’s atmosphere.
The results showed more than half of the 168 After Chemical Exposure (ACE) community surveys reported headaches, anxiety, coughing, fatigue, and irritated skin after the derailment. However, the surveys did not indicate if the residents were exposed to harmful levels of chemicals or what caused their symptoms.
EPA officials, along with the Justice Department, announced a lawsuit on Friday against Norfolk Southern, seeking “penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances” under the Clean Water Act, as well as “declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs” related to the incident under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
The complaint from the EPA and Justice Department said materials released from the train cars, such as vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, Ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and benzene residue, have been “associated variously” with impaired fetal development, organ damage, cancers, and other health conditions with a sufficiently high degree of exposure. Yet, state and federal officials have repeatedly claimed that the air and water supplies in East Palestine are safe for residents.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified before Congress earlier this month regarding the derailment but made no specific promises regarding the firm’s commitment to handling economic and health fallout into the future.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.