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Ohio Chemical Spill Public Health Response

The February 3, 2023 chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio released more than various materials, including some hazardous, into the environment. Chemicals were set on fire February 6, which also released additional chemicals and particulate matter that was created by the fire. Information has been compiled below to help those interested in understanding air, water, soil testing response. Some of the materials spread out and crossed into Pennsylvania, less than 2 miles away from the spill site.

Because numerous households reached out us for advice, and evidence indicated many public health and safety questions were left unanswered by government officials, a volunteer Purdue University disaster response science and engineering team became involved in February 2023. The team’s goal is to help households better understand key public health and safety questions. Information about their efforts and discoveries will be posted here.

Team and Collaborators

  • Andrew Whelton, Ph.D., Lyles School of Civil Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering
  • Nusrat Jung, Ph.D., Lyles School of Civil Engineering
  • Brandon Boor, Ph.D., Lyles School of Civil Engineering
  • Jeffrey Youngblood, Ph.D., School of Materials Engineering
  • Linda Lee, Ph.D., School of Agronomy
  • Marty Frisbee, Ph.D., Earth and Atmospheric Planetary Sciences
  • Brad Caffery, Lyles School of Civil Engineering
  • Roberta Vance, Lyles School of Civil Engineering
  • Graduate students
  • Undergraduate students
  • Lauryn Spearing, University of Illinois at Chicago


External Resources for Households, Private Well Owners, and Public Health Officials

  • No documents yet. These will be based on our independent sampling and chemical analysis.
  • Residents and visitors should not go in or near the creeks. They are heavily contaminated, including Lesley Run.

Government Websites with Environmental Testing Information and Announcements

State agencies

Federal agencies

Tentative Event Timeline

March 4, 2023

  • Researchers from Purdue University visited East Palestine and the surrounding area from March 3-4 to document safety controls and collect creek water samples.

March 3, 2023

  • A community group United for East Palestine released results of their informal survey of 100 residents related to health symptoms and smells detected:
  • Signs are installed in some areas of the contaminated creeks warning people not to go near them.
  • USEPA Administrator Michael Regan publicly orders Norfolk Southern to conduct dioxin testing.
  • Governor DeWine’s office releases the results of a CDC Acute Chemical Exposure (ACE) investigation of the community.

March 2, 2023

  • Researchers from Texas A&M University/Carnegie Mello University public report that they detected some pollutants in air near the spill and fire site during their February air sampling campaign in East Palestine, Ohio:
  • Researcher from Purdue University sends a letter to US Occupational Safety and Health Administration Director Douglas Parker asking that his agency investigate cleanup worker safety in East Palestine, Ohio.
  • US Department of Labor and OSHA reached out to a researcher from Purdue University to obtain additional information about worksite safety risks observed during the February 2023 visit to the disaster site.

March 1, 2023

February 25-27, 2023

  • Researchers from Purdue University visited East Palestine and the surrounding area. They report that the creeks are heavily contaminated and advise the public to avoid these waterways. During their visit they observed children, adults, and pets near the creeks. The team also observes cleanup workers wading through the creeks without proper PPE.
  • Columbiana Health Department posts, for the first time since the spill occurred, municipal drinking water testing results and private drinking water testing results on their website.
  • CDC sends an ACE team to East Palestine to investigate health symptoms being reported by residents in the impact area.

February 24, 2023

  • Erin Brockovich holds a meeting in town. One statement was that she warned residents not to plant vegetable gardens this year due to the potential for soil contamination which may exist. No publicly available post-disaster soil testing data were available for the area when this statement was made.

February 23, 2023

  • The State of Ohio Department of Natural Resources disclosed that they had revised the overall number of animals found dead to 3,500 to more than 43,500.

February 22, 2023

February 15, 2023

February 13, 2023

  • Press conference
    • Governor DeWine tells people they should drink bottled water if he lived in the area.
    • Ohio Department of Health director is asked if residents should use water filters. The director recommends people “consider using bottled water”, and they are waiting on testing results of the municipal water sources. The radius of people who should use bottled water is listed on maps of the impacted zone and residents should call the telephone number he provided.
    • Ohio Department of Health director said most of the chemicals worried about and talking about are called volatile organic compounds (VOC). He first invoked routine VOC exposures such as pumping gas in your car, burning wood, smoking and second hand smoke. By the time they decided to bring people into the impacted area, they had air testing [data] that told them the air looked similar to before the event happened. The director says that private well owners should call a telephone number 330-849-3919 for free well testing. They also strongly recommend to “use bottled water”, especially for pregnant, breastfeeding, and infant formula. The compounds they were talking about, they made sure the atmosphere is clean. Now they are working on assuring clean water. In response to a journalist, the director said that odor detection is at a level well below where the exposure could be unsafe. “The air sampling in that area is really not pointing to an air source, and secondly, in terms of water, we encourage people to use bottled water, particularly with a private water source.” In response to a journalist asking about the safety of air inside homes, and he said “they have very good data as it relates to air quality and there continues to be air monitoring.”
    • Ohio EPA Chief of Surface Water said Norfolk Southern has containment within 1.3 miles of Sulfur Run. Sulfur Run remains contaminated, but February 4 data on Lesley Run and North Fork Beaver Creek show very low detection levels of contaminants mostly from fire residual chemicals. February 10 data shows low levels of only 2 contaminants, butyl acrylate and ethylhexyl acrylate in Lesley Run. Butyl acrylate dissipates to not detected levels to the North Folk of the Beaver Creek. The other dissipates once we get to little beaver creek. Have not detected any vinyl chloride in downgradient waterways. Ohio EPA working with ORSANCO to track the contaminant plume in real time, moving about 1 mile per hour. In response to a journalist, the Chief reported that the plume contains “100s” of fire combustion chemical detections in data that they have, and they have not yet tested for the PFOS compounds.
    • Kurt Kollar at Ohio EPA stated that during the initial spill emergency, after they could get close, in-situ treatment of contamination in Sulfur Run and containment was the approach applied at 3 sites. They used booms to try to stop floating product. He reported that aeration and sparging units were breaking down the dissolved phase of the contaminants, and stated that there was residual material in Lesley Run, and they have aeration in Lesley Run. They have excavated contaminated soil (north ditch and south ditch). Water is being pumped around. In response to a journalist, he reported that haze and odor was in the area after the fires.
    • Ohio DNR director reported that after the spill they looked into aquatic life impacts of Sulfur Run, Lesley Run, and Beaver Creek. They discovered through testing and sampling, early on, about 3,500 dead fish across those waterways. 12 different species, none were threatened or endangered. They have not investigated fatalities of hellbenders, federally protected species. She declared that there was no apparent increase in the number of fish killed since the derailment.

February 9, 2023

  • Dr. Whelton from Purdue University and a community group that formed after the disaster, United for East Palestine, connect.

February 8, 2023

  • Residents were told the evacuation order was lifted.
  • Monitoring “showed that the air was basically what it was prior to the train crash”
  • The Ohio Natural Guard was dispatched to measure air quality.

February 6, 2023

  • At 4:15-4:20 pm, the “controlled” released involved deliberately igniting hazardous chemicals on fire which were leaking from the railcars. Air monitoring was conducted.
  • A mandatory 1 mile evacuation area was established.
  • Governor DeWine made the decision with others to execute a “controlled” release.
  • The US DOD and Ohio National Guard did modeling to estimate likelihood of death and danger should the rail car explode.
  • The State of Ohio and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Governors examined the risks associated with shrapnel thrown and “controlled” release options with other agencies.

February 5, 2023

February 3, 2023

  • At 8:55 pm, the Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio and initiated a fire.
  • Letter to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking for a worker safety investigation, March 2, 2023