Nearly half of a government team investigating the potential health effects of a toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, fell ill while conducting their research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In a March 31 statement provided to The Epoch Times, CDC spokesperson Belsie Gonzalez advised that the illnesses occurred on March 6, when seven members of a 15-person team of CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) staff reported symptoms such as sore throat, headache, coughing, and nausea.
Their symptoms, Gonzalez noted, were consistent with those reported by some East Palestine residents and first responders, whom the team was surveying to assess the potential health effects of their exposure to the chemicals released by the Feb. 3 derailment.
Sore Throats, Headaches, Nausea
“Following protocol, team members reported the symptoms to federal safety officers,” she said.
“Symptoms resolved for most team members later the same afternoon, and everyone resumed work on survey data collection within 24 hours. Impacted team members have not reported ongoing health effects.”
Gonzalez added that the survey collection process, which started mid-February, will end on March 31.
“Once completed, CDC/ATSDR staff will analyze the data and provide it to state health officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania,” she said. “FEMA and EPA teams remain on the ground to support response efforts.”
News of the government employees’ illnesses followed the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) filing of a lawsuit on March 31 against Norfolk Southern, seeking to hold the railroad company accountable for “unlawfully polluting the nation’s waterways” through the toxic derailment.
“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”
In the complaint, the DOJ noted that the chemicals involved in the spill—which included the highly toxic and flammable gas of vinyl chloride, among others—had previously been linked to adverse health effects.
“Exposure to these hazardous materials at sufficiently high levels has been associated variously with an increased risk of cancer; risks to fetal development; damage to organs like the liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin; and other health conditions,” the filing states.
In the short term, East Palestine residents have reported a range of concerning symptoms in the wake of the derailment, nausea, headaches, rashes, burning sensations, and difficulty breathing.
In a class action lawsuit East Palestine residents filed last month against Norfolk Southern, one resident reported experiencing a “sudden and unprecedented bout of dizziness” the day after the derailment, as well as “intense” coughing fits, shortness of breath, and sharp pain in his head.
And despite state and federal officials’ assurances that the air and water in the area are safe, many remain doubtful and uncertain as to what long-term health effects they might experience.
The DOJ’s lawsuit, filed at the request of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan, asks the court to find Norfolk Southern liable for the government’s response costs and require the company to “take appropriate actions to remedy, mitigate, and offset the harm to public health and the environment.”
“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” Regan said.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced.
“With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess it made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again.”