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Ohio/Pennsylvania 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.

Donations to Support the Chemical Spill and Fire Disaster Response

Donations to support the Ohio / Pennsylvania response and recovery research to the Whelton Rapid Health Fund at Purdue University can be submitted here:

Who and Why?
In February 2023, three weeks after the Norfolk Southern Chemical Spill and Chemical Fires disaster in East Palestine Ohio, volunteer Purdue University researchers engaged. This action was done to help answer the myriad questions left unanswered by government officials who were claiming the contamination had been "contained" near the derailment site and the community was safe to reinhabit. Since then, discoveries by this volunteer research team revealed residents and businesses were not being properly protected (based on targeted chemical testing and analysis). Through this activity, the team has provided testing results back to the participating residents and businesses, but also to state and federal agencies. This was done to help the agencies gain access to information they lacked so better public safety decisions could be made. The team includes experts in environmental and civil engineering, soil science, environmental chemistry, atmospheric science, geosciences, and agriculture, among other disciplines.

Effort as of May 7
As of May 7, 2023, the team of 20 professors and 15 students and staff have dedicated more than 2,864 hours of time. This includes travel to and from the area five times, testing supplies, and labor for an estimated cost of $205,000. Of this total amount, as of May 7, the team has been supported by $11,000 through Purdue University Institute for Sustainable Future and public donations. Any and all donations are appreciated. [Additional expenses are being incurred as samples are being processed].

Summary of Actions as of May 7

  • Conducted five onsite field investigations (7 hr drive from Purdue University)
  • Interviewed residents to understand chemical exposures and impacts
  • Conducted air, surface water, drinking water, soil, and surface sampling in the impacted area.
  • Reviewed Norfolk Southern contractor air, water and soil testing results and pointed out deficiencies to USEPA (the Incident Commander) so they can be corrected.
  • Provided the USEPA recommendations on how their oversights that sometimes-placed public safety at risk can be corrected. These topics included air testing, private well testing, communications, and chemical exposures during aeration.
  • Requested information on CDC worker illnesses that occurred during their February/March onsite investigation.
  • Provided recommendations to OSHA for improving worker safety (before reports of government agency illnesses were confirmed).
  • Made recommendations to the Governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Senate about actions needed to thoroughly identify contamination and remove health risks from the communities.
  • Submitted various public comments and testimony to U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Senate hearings about the disaster
  • Provided and offered disaster response and recovery technical advice to the Governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania, USEPA, White House, Columbiana County Health Department, Village of East Palestine, local schools, businesses, residents, community groups, and National Institutes of Health
  • Helped external research teams better understand the issues and bring their expertise to the impacted area to support scientific response and recovery
  • Openly shared discoveries in real-time with residents, community groups, government agencies, universities, and other organizations of interest so that officials can course correct their decision-making.

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
  • Gouri Prabahkar, 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
  • Clayton Wukich, Cleveland State University
  • Frank Loeffler, University of Tennessee


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

  • As of February 26, residents and visitors should not go in or near the creeks. They are heavily contaminated.
  • Drinking water well testing should be conducted for all of the chemicals of concern, including those found in the heavily contaminated creeks.

Government Websites with Environmental Testing Information and Announcements

State Agencies

Federal Agencies