Just one mile away from the Ohio train derailment site, one East Palestine mother recounted her family’s “scary” evacuation experience and called out policymakers who have been slow to respond to the disaster.
“Until you see it with your own eyes, you don’t believe it,” Tracy Hager said on “The Bottom Line” Tuesday evening. “And it’s been a really scary thing for all of us. It was definitely something that we never thought about before.”
On Feb. 3, approximately 20 Norfolk Southern rail cars traveling near the Pennsylvania border derailed from the tracks and were set ablaze, releasing burning plumes and smoke as the train was reportedly carrying hazardous materials including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.
Hager claimed that her family spent two days in their home surrounded by the potentially contaminated air before being evacuated by emergency responders.
“They had trains running through town within hours after the evacuation was lifted. We really just didn’t know what to think,” Hager recalled. “We still had concerns because we had our friends, everybody here knows everybody, and we had people telling us that it still smelled, there was still fire burning, and then we had people telling us there was fish.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office had previously confirmed with Fox News Digital that detectable traces of contamination in the water had an “immediate fish kill” response in the Ohio River.
“When you’re thrown into a tragedy like that, you bring everybody else in around you and they’re concerned for you, too,” Hager said. “And when you have all these people telling you about these chemicals where there’s documentation of how to handle it and what happens when you don’t, and you see them covering it up with gravel, that’s scary stuff, because this is the water that we drink, the water and our animals drink.”
While the governor’s office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both verified that air monitoring systems have “not detected any levels of health concern” as of Tuesday afternoon, Hager still expressed concern over nearby residents’ exposure.
“We didn’t even know what was on the train until three days after when they finally released it to the public, what was partially on the train. Three days ago, we found out about three more materials that were equally hazardous, if not more, on the train,” the Ohio mom said. “That is why we got evacuated, because they didn’t know whether or not it was going to blow up, when it was going to blow up, so the best thing to do is send everybody out of the area. That was immediate danger.”
Communication and transparency from “higher-up” politicians and the government have been lackluster, according to Hager.
“Our own city municipality website doesn’t have any links to this disaster on it. I had to find links for community service for food through my school website because they had a small link for it,” she criticized. “None of them include the Red Cross or any of those types of organizations. Anybody who’s coming in town, and God bless them all, they have been church organizations and people that are volunteers through other churches that are bringing in cleaning supplies.”
“They’re only giving that assistance to the people who live in the one-mile area, their services,” Hager continued. “Their cleaning services, their air checking services. Anybody outside that area has got to do it on their own.”
Trent Conaway, East Palestine’s mayor, acknowledged that his community remains frustrated due to lingering odors and promised the village is “not just taking the word” of Norfolk Southern Railway and has Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives involved in air testing.
“This isn’t going to get swept under the rug. I’m not going to be the country bumpkin that gets talked over by a big corporation,” Conaway told The Associated Press. “We’re going to hold their feet to the fire. They’re going to do what they said they were going to do, and they’re going to protect the people of this town.”
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, sounded the alarm Tuesday as well, as residents continue to report sickness and even dead animals.
“This is a relatively frequent occurrence. Not to this scale, but throughout the Midwest, as we have lots of trains that are traversing with hazardous materials that go through towns, sometimes cities, and could impact the health of the people that are there,” Turner said on “Mornings with Maria.” “The Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg ought to be on this. He’s been ignoring this.”