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Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated: April 8, 2024

General

How did this occur?

Just before 9:00 PM on February 3, 2023, a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Taggart Road. Approximately 50 railcars were involved in the derailment, eleven of which contained hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, combustible liquids (ethylene glycol monobutyl ether acetate, 2-ethylhexyl acrylate), isobutylene, n-butyl acrylate, and benzene residue (meaning the cars had previously carried benzene).

Several local, state, and federal agencies responded to the incident along with the railroad and its emergency response contractors. A precautionary evacuation and shelter-in-place was ordered to ensure the safety of the public. The air is monitored 24 hours a day throughout the evacuation zone and in the community outside the evacuation zone. The results of air monitoring indicate no detections of vinyl chloride in the community and support that the air in the community is safe for residents to return home.

What was Norfolk Southern transporting, and how are these chemicals commonly used?

Most of the chemicals involved in the incident fall into Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) category. Officials noted that VOCs are a part of everyday life. Consumers are exposed to these while pumping gas, burning wood, or burning natural gas in their homes. And, if consumers are smoking or live with someone who smokes, they are exposed to substantial levels of VOCs. See more examples below:

SUBSTANCEDOT Regulated Hazardous Material COMMON USE 
Butyl Acrylate Yes Used in polymer manufacturing, textile and leather finishing. Also used in formulating paints, coatings, caulks, sealants, adhesives 
Vinyl Chloride Yes   Used to make PVC, a material widely used in automotive parts, packaging products, pipes, construction materials, furniture, and a variety of other products 
Combustible Liquid, NOS:  Ethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether Yes   Used as solvent in surface coatings. Also used in hydraulic fluids, glass cleaners, and leather cleaners. Used as a solvent in paints, coatings, inks, metal cleaners, and household cleaners 
Combustible Liquid, NOS:  Ethylhexyl Acrylate               Yes   Used in plastics, protective coatings, and paper treatment. Also used in water-based paints, adhesives, and printing inks 
Propylene Glycol No Used in antifreeze and de-icing solutions for cars, boats, and aircraft; also used as a solvent for paints and plastics and to create harmless, artificial smoke for training and theatrical purposes 
Petroleum Lube Oil No Used for both automotive and industrial applications to reduce friction and wear between bearing metallic surfaces 
Diethylene Glycol No Used as a humectant in tobacco, synthetic sponges, glues, paper products, and more. Also used as a lubricating and finishing agent to make materials including wool, rayon, and silk. Used in dyes, as well lacquers, cosmetics, antifreeze solutions for sprinkler systems; water seals for gas tanks, brake fluids, lubricants, mold release agents, and inks. 
What is the latest update from Norfolk Southern on their community response?
  • Completed more than 600 in-home air tests in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governmental agencies. In-home air monitoring has not detected substances related to the incident and does not indicate health risks.
  • Implemented an extensive outdoor air monitoring program in the community. Thousands of data points have been collected, which continue to indicate no risk to health from incident-related substances. Air monitoring is also being conducted in the broader region outside of the Village of East Palestine.
  • Actively sampling the Village of East Palestine’s drinking water supply wells, drinking water system, and private wells in areas potentially impacted by the incident.
  • Distributed over $21.4 million in direct financial assistance through more than 11,793 family visits and a number of businesses to cover costs related to the evacuation. Those include reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items. The Legal Claims team completed 50 in-home visits with residents unable to make it into the FAC.
  • Established a $1 million fund available immediately to the community.
  • After a further review of areas affected by the evacuation orders and at the request of East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and other public officials, the company announced on Feb. 15 that it is expanding the geographic area eligible for reimbursements for costs and inconvenience related to evacuating the region. All East Palestine residents in the 44413 zip code are now eligible. Residents should bring proof of residency with them to the Family Assistance Center.
  • Reimbursing the East Palestine Fire Department $220,000 to replace Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) air packs, which allow firefighters to breathe compressed air when responding to fires.
  • Providing more than 100 air purifiers for residents to use in their homes. Air purifiers have been purchased for the East Palestine municipal building in coordination with the City Manager.
  • Coordinating and funded cleaning and air monitoring services for the East Palestine Elementary and High Schools.
  • To date we have removed over 58.9M gallons of impacted water/sludge for final disposal. 
  • Officials established an emergency clinic in East Palestine with the help of HHS and CDC professionals.
What are Norfolk Southern hazmat and contractors doing at the incident site now?

In cooperation with federal, state, and local authorities, Norfolk Southern and its contractors are advancing environmental recovery efforts in East Palestine. Norfolk Southern has reconstructed both mainlines after successfully excavating the impacted soil under the removed tracks, as well as in the center line, and is transporting it offsite. Additionally, Norfolk Southern and its contractors continue removing impacted water from the site, transporting it for proper disposal. To date, crews have removed 177,087 tons of contaminated soil from the incident area and 58.9M gallons of contaminants and contaminated liquid from the immediate site.

Was water from the derailment site flowing into the creeks after heavy rains during the weekend of October 14-15?

No, water directly flows into Sulphur Run from the Sulphur Run bypass systems.

The bypass systems carry water from the northeastern wetlands just outside of the derailment site and stormwater from Taggart Street to Sulphur Run that flows into Leslie Run at the Village Park. The bypass systems are a series of pipes that carry water around potential contamination at the derailment site. Water entering Sulphur Run from the bypass pipes is collected upgradient of the site. It is non-hazardous and has not come into contact with the derailment site or excavation activities.

Intermittent flows from the bypass systems may affect water levels in Sulphur Run and should be anticipated while work to properly manage water from outside the derailment site continues.

Resources

What is Norfolk Southern doing to monitor the surface and drinking water post-incident and to provide residents with the confidence they need to return home safely?

In close collaboration with local health officials, we have implemented a comprehensive testing program of East Palestine’s water, air, and soil to ensure the safety of the community. To date, this program has included over 600 in-home air tests, the collection of thousands of air samples, continuous screening of drinking water and the identification and removal of contaminated soil.

The testing of both in-home air, general air, and municipal water has not shown any detections of substances related to the incident and does not indicate a health risk.

Residents who want air and water testing should contact the Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline at (330) 849-3919.

Is financial assistance available?

Residents who were evacuated or impacted by the derailment can request assistance with lodging, food, clothing, gas, childcare, laundry, pet care, and more. We have also established a $1 million fund available immediately to the community.

Help with claims and information about resources can be answered by reaching out to our resource hotline at (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours) or by visiting the Family Assistance Center at 191 E. Rebecca Street, East Palestine, OH 44413

Are residents giving up future rights to claims by signing paperwork for the inconvenience payments?

Norfolk Southern continues to provide reimbursement for expenses incurred by residents affected by the evacuation, in addition to compensation for inconvenience during the evacuation, through our Family Assistance Center. Acceptance of these reimbursements and/or inconvenience compensation is not a settlement of any future claim.

If I live within the evacuation zone and would like to participate in the residential re-entry air monitoring program, who do I contact to request air monitoring?

For any additional assistance or information please reach out to our hotline at (800) 230-7049(call during Family Assistance Center operating hours).

What resources are currently available to impacted residents?

We are distributing direct financial assistance to impacted families and businesses to cover costs related to the evacuation, including reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items. We have also established a $1 million fund available immediately to the community and reimbursed the East Palestine Fire Department $220,000 to replace Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) air packs, which allow firefighters to breathe compressed air when responding to fires. Air purifiers are also available for residents to use in their homes.

If you need support during this time, assistance and information are available at the following resources:

Resource hotline: (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours)
Connect with a Norfolk Southern representative to discuss any questions or concerns and about the most up-to-date information and resources.

Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline: (330) 849-3919
If you are in need of air and water testing to ensure a safe re-entry into your home, please contact the Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline

CTEH Taggart Road Incident Hotline: (234) 542-6474
Connect with a toxicologist to discuss any questions or concerns.

The NS Family Assistance Center
Available in coordination with our local community partners to help community members meet immediate needs. For those unable to travel to the Family Assistance Center, please contact (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours) to coordinate assistance from the team who will meet you at your current location. The center is located at:

Rebecca Place
191 E. Rebecca Street, East Palestine, OH 44413

What should residents bring with them to the family assistance center?
  • Driver’s license or other government-issued identification, and Social Security card
  • Proof of residency within the evacuation zone at the time of the derailment (e.g. utility bill, etc.)
  • For minors residing in the household, proof of dependency (e.g. Social Security card)
  • Receipts for any expenses incurred while evacuated from your home
What if residents have other questions regarding assistance?

Help with claims and information about resources can be answered by reaching out to our resource hotline at (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours) or by visiting the Family Assistance Center at 191 E. Rebecca Street, East Palestine, OH 44413

Who do residents reach out to with questions or concerns?

If you need support during this time, assistance and information are available at the following resources:

Resource hotline: (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours)
Connect with a Norfolk Southern representative to discuss any questions or concerns and about the most up-to-date information and resources.

Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline: (330) 849-3919
If you are in need of air and water testing to ensure a safe re-entry into your home, please contact the Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline

CTEH Taggart Road Incident Hotline: (234) 542-6474
Connect with a toxicologist to discuss any questions or concerns.

The NS Family Assistance Center
Available in coordination with our local community partners to help community members meet immediate needs. For those unable to travel to the Family Assistance Center, please contact (800) 230-7049 (call during Family Assistance Center operating hours) to coordinate assistance from the team who will meet you at your current location. The center is located at:

191 E. Rebecca Street, East Palestine, OH 44413

Can I bring reimbursement requests on behalf of my spouse or cohabitant in my home?
  • Driver’s license or other government-issued identification, and Social Security card
  • Proof of residency within the evacuation zone at the time of the derailment (e.g. utility bill, etc.)
  • For minors residing in the household, proof of dependency (e.g., Social Security card)
  • Receipts for any expenses incurred while evacuated from your home

Health and Safety

Are residents able to return home?

Yes, the mandatory evacuation was lifted – coordinated by local, state, and federal officials – on February 8.

Is the air safe?

Air monitoring – general and in-home air monitoring being conducted by contractors in conjunction with the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA – has not shown any detections of substances related to the incident and does not indicate a health risk.

Residents smell a strange odor; should they be worried?

Our toxicology experts tell us the odor is non-carcinogenic and does not cause a rash. Some of the substances associated with the derailment can be smelled even when instrument air monitoring findings are non-detect or below levels of concern. Air monitoring in the community is ongoing and will continue until clean-up is complete.

Contractors in conjunction with the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA are performing continuous air monitoring for the substances associated with the derailment and fire. Results do not indicate a health risk.

Are children at risk? What about the elderly or people with medical conditions?

No – Air monitoring in the community has not shown any detections of vinyl chloride or levels of any other substances that would indicate a risk for children, the elderly, or individuals with medical conditions. Air monitoring in the community is ongoing and will continue until clean-up is complete.

I have seen dead fish. Does that mean my drinking water is not safe?

While an initial loss of fish did occur due to spillage at Sulphur Run, no endangered species perished, and the contamination is contained and being remediated.

More information can be found at ema.ohio.gov/eastpalestine.

What about the local agricultural impact?

To date, officials have not seen any impact to the livestock community that causes concerns.

What about the runoff into the Ohio River?

Officials have not detected any vinyl chloride in any downgradient water ways, and are no longer seeing low levels of other contaminants. Initially, officials detected low levels of contaminants and communicated to the public that proactive treatments are eliminating the risk before it occurs to consumers along the Ohio River.

Is tap water safe to drink and/or use?

Results from the Columbiana County Health District continuous water testing of the East Palestine municipal well have showed no water quality concerns, and based on test results, Governor DeWine issued a press release stating the municipal water is safe to consume.

What if we have our own well?
Have the streams and creeks been impacted?

First and foremost, residents should know that the downstream creeks and streams do not supply drinking water, so any impact to the surface water does not pose a threat to your drinking water.

The water quality in Sulfur Run continues to be impacted because an impoundment was created on Feb. 8, when Sulfur Run was rerouted using a dam and pump, to isolate the area contaminated by the train derailment. This ensures no additional contaminants would move downstream and allows contractors to focus on removing the contaminants from the section of Sulfur Run that was affected. That process is underway to fully remediate the impacted waterway, and officials are urging residents to avoid the area.

Can exposure to substances from the derailment affect child asthma?

While smoke from any type of fire can exacerbate asthma or other breathing difficulties, no long-term effect is expected from short-term exposure. Only very high concentrations of vinyl chloride or other substances may affect someone’s asthma, but any aggravation of asthma is expected to be transient and short-term, with no persistent or long-term effects. None of these substances are known to cause asthma.

Are pets safe?

Based on the air monitoring data collected, your pets should not have been affected by the derailment. If you feel that your pet needs medical attention because of the incident, you should contact your local veterinarian. They have been briefed by Ohio state officials on how to report such instances.

Is food or pet’s food safe?

Food would not be affected by the incident, and you can safely eat any non-spoiled food that is in your home. You should, however, follow normal food safety procedures and make sure not to eat any food that has spoiled.

Can I turn on my home furnace?

It is safe to turn on your furnace and return to normal household activities. You do not have to change your furnace filter unless you want to.

What about my house plants and other vegetation?

Air monitoring indicates no danger to your house plants, trees, shrubs, or lawns. Based on the air monitoring data collected, your plants and vegetation should not have been affected by the derailment.

Will homes smell bad from the vinyl chloride?

No – At no point has air monitoring detected vinyl chloride. N-butyl acrylate has a low odor threshold, meaning that you can smell it at even lower concentrations than detectable by air monitoring equipment. While odors have been reported in the community, air monitoring data continue to indicate that there are no unsafe levels of substances in the air. Some people may notice an odor when re-entering their home after evacuation due to stale odors from the house sitting undisturbed, closed up tightly, and uninhabited for several days. If you encounter an odor that concerns you, you can open the windows and/or doors to promote ventilation. If you live within the evacuation zone, you also have the voluntary option of having the air in and around your home monitored by a re-entry air monitoring team.

Am I at risk for long-term health effects?

We have not ourselves seen evidence of long-term health effects, but we continue to listen to the experts. The community and in-home air monitoring data shows no exposure to dangerous chemicals that could lead to long-term risks. This is true of both residents who live near to and those who live far from the incident site.


Questions

Our work is underway. Crews are cleaning the site thoroughly, responsibly, and safely. Our Family Assistance Center is helping community members meet immediate needs.

The above page may have an answer for your question, but if it does not, we want to hear from you so we can provide you with the up-to-date information for you and your family.

Please use the form to input your contact information and the specific question you have. We will provide an answer directly to you, and update our site to ensure everyone has the information they need.