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East Palestine train crash released an array of chemicals. Here's how to get your home tested

Train Derailment East Palestine Ohio
Gene J. Puskar
A Norfolk Southern freight train passes through East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, as clean up continues following train derailment earlier in the month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released documents this weekend showing the train that derailed in East Palestine was carrying more chemicals than the rail company previously shared.

In addition to the vinyl chloride in five train cars, Norfolk Southern reported its cars also contained the chemicals ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and isobutylene – which the EPA lists as hazardous.

Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist with University Hospitals, said if inhaled, the chemicals may cause respiratory irritation, headaches or nausea.

“I think the biggest concern is the vinyl chloride, which has longer-term effects,” he said. “But it seems like hopefully the response here has been to destroy as much as possible. And it seems like there is pretty extensive ongoing monitoring to see if there's more out there and where exactly it is.”

Vinyl chloride is a man-made chemical used in the production of plastic, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). It quickly evaporates into the air when spilled, and, if inhaled, it can cause dizziness and headaches, among other symptoms. People exposed to the chemical over many years may get cancer, liver and nerve damage and have trouble with their immune system, according to ODH.

The EPA said it is monitoring the air quality in East Palestine around the clock and, since the fire went out on Feb. 8, has not detected any levels that would be concerning for human health.

As of Tuesday, the EPA said it had screened 396 homes in the area and found no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride.

Marino said he trusts that the responding agencies are looking for all possible levels of contamination that are unsafe for people.

“I'm hoping that there will be enough resources for an appropriate ongoing response and continued monitoring because this isn't something that's just kind of over and done with, as we've already seen from the way the information is coming out,” he said.

If people are concerned about the air quality in their homes, Marino suggested signing up for the EPA voluntary air quality monitoring and getting an air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter.

The EPA has this equipment, has access to... definitive testing and... takes the guesswork out of trying to buy things online, which, frankly, can be intentionally kind of kind of predatory,” he said.

Residents in the evacuation area can request air and drinking water testing by calling the residential re-entry request hotline (330) 849-3919.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.