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East Palestine Train Derailment Response

Updated: May 31, 2023

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences has deployed our existing Rapid Response Taskforce to provide faculty and staff expertise to address the areas of concern related to the train derailment. By relying on the best available science, we are partnering with all federal and state agencies that are responding to this crisis, to provide academic expertise. Our team consists of:

  • OSU Extension – County, Field, and State Specialists

  • Faculty Experts and Researchers

  • College External Relations Team

This team continues to grow and evolve as conditions change and new concerns emerge.

The Rapid Response Taskforce:

  • Provides continuous support to the Extension Educator in Columbiana County, who is working in alignment with local agencies and organizations responsible for the regulatory aspects of the derailment (e.g., Ohio EPA, US EPA, Ohio Department of Agriculture, USDA, Columbiana County Soil & Water, Ohio State Farm Service Agency, Farm Bureau, etc.)

  • Develops fact-based information sheets to help address the ongoing questions from our partners and from local farmers and community members.

  • Validates processes and actions being taken by our partners.

  • Works as a local, trusted source of unbiased scientific authority while partnering to keep the many agencies informed of all activities associated in response to the derailment.

  • Often serves as the first point of contact for concerned community members and producers and is actively works to connect these concerns to partners for a unified response.

Actions taken:

  • Assisted with identifying temporary housing for farm animals and helped move them to those locations.

  • Identified and engaged faculty to review the Norfolk Southern remediation plan for soil testing and provided comments to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

  • Developed a fact sheet that provided points of contact and immediate response FAQs.

  • Provided a review of ODA / EPA soil sampling processes.

  • Developed a soil sampling protocol for ODA which is being implemented outside of the one-mile zone in collaboration with Norfolk Southern.

  • The Columbiana County Extension Educator was asked to validate the EPA soil sampling in the one-mile zone and to be present during the sampling to build community confidence in the process.

  • Providing mental health support and resources.

  • Will be evaluating economic and environmental impacts.

Additional Information:

Soil Testing:

  • For agricultural purposes, there is a need to expand the initial 1-mile soil testing radius.

    • Reasoning/potential logistics

      • Follow plume pattern – for farms in the plume’s path following the controlled vent, they need data for both their and consumer’s peace of mind to assure that their products are safe.

      • Crop Health

        • Growing crops such as wheat, malting barley, triticale, alfalfa, etc. are all grown in the areas surrounding EP. Growers utilize these crops for livestock feed, sales, and in the case of the malting barley, sales to a local distillery. These farms need to know for themselves, and for the questions they are receiving from customers, that the crops in the field are safe to feed to their livestock, as well as sell for human consumption.

        • With the mild winter and impending planting season, our crop producers are also eager to have their questions answered regarding safety to plants and the status of the soils in their fields.

        • In some cases, it has been suggested that plant tissue sampling be conducted, assuming those tests exist for that media.

      • A couple of considerations regarding the expansion of soil testing throughout the county:

        • Our communities are scared, frustrated, and in need of solid answers. Throughout discussions, our local Extension, SWCD, EMA, and Commissioners have noted that consistency will be key in ensuring the ability of our people to trust these results. Maintaining the use of consistent labs, people collecting those samples, and procedures equivalent to what is being seen in the 1-mile radius will allow us to format our educational/outreach response much more effectively. It was also discussed this week that using some “familiar faces” during the sampling and dissemination of results will be crucial – OSU Extension, as mentioned in this email string, and throughout community meetings, is a trusted source in the community, as is our SWCD and EMA.

Livestock Health:

  • Current questions from producers:

    • Are pastures safe to graze?

    • Feed sources – if hay or grain was outdoors or exposed to the burn-off, is it safe to feed?

    • Dairy – are there any existing tests for milk that would enable our farms to confidently say their milk is free of contaminants?

      • We have a couple large dairies in the 3–5-mile radius from the derailment – both have been receiving multiple calls from citizens, in and further away from EP, asking “how do you know your animals and milk is safe”. In conversation with these farms yesterday, they are not necessarily concerned that there are contaminants present, however they are anticipating loss of sales (for the farm that bottles and direct markets their milk), and continued loss of trust in their products. In both these cases, their need is to be able to address both their consumers and their own peace of mind with some relevant data to back them up.

    • Beef/Processing

      • A local processor based outside of EP has already had instances of customers backing out on sales, simply because they are located in Columbiana County, somewhat near EP. They continue to assure their customers that inspectors are present while beef is being processed, and that any livestock health concerns are addressed immediately, however are not sure that this will continue to satisfy consumer concerns.

  • Constant communication has been occurring and will continue to occur between local OSU Extension and Dr. Summers, State Veterinarian.

    • It is our understanding that, at this time, protocols do not exist to test animal tissue for the chemicals or compounds of interest.

Economic Impact

  • Through conversation with many of our local producers, as well as SWCD and FB contacts, it is becoming evident that farms are losing sales – beef, eggs, processed feed, etc.

  • Specialty crop growers are also starting to have conversations with their summer/fall markets, who are in some cases asking the producer to conduct weekly soil and water testing (perhaps not realizing that this is not economically or practically feasible for our growers).

    • Many growers from this area market toward the Cleveland metropolitan area – we anticipate questions from these markets as well and will need resources to address their concerns.

  • At this point in the process, we are unsure whether we can truly “get ahead” of lost sales occurring, as they already are and will likely continue.

    • Question/need for those in the position to help: How can these producers be supported financially, and what steps should they be taking now to ensure future eligibility?

Addressing Educational Resources

  • For resources to fully reach our audiences and serve their purpose, they will need to be transparent, thorough, and appropriately descriptive. If soil, plants, water, air, etc. is safe, we need (locally) to be able to explain why and show the data that lead us to this conclusion. The folks here are beginning to feel talked “at” by many agencies, but they look to local groups such as Extension, SWCD, etc. as people they can talk “with.”

As the situation evolves, we will work to provide additional guidance and educational materials regarding areas such as soil test results and consumer confidence.

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