Prominent environmentalist Erin Brockovich hosted a packed town hall meeting in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday to relay information to local residents affected by a Norfolk Southern train derailment that released toxic chemicals into the town earlier this month.
Brockovich and Mikel Watts, a trial lawyer, informed residents about the action they can consider as the town continues to rebuild itself after a controlled burn was conducted on derailed cars carrying chemicals including vinyl chloride and others associated with health hazards such as cancer.
The information included legal routes residents can consider, health monitoring, and information about Norfolk Southern’s history of train derailments.
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“Superman’s not coming. No one is coming to change what’s happened to you, magically fix what’s happened to you or give you all the answers,” Brockovich said during the meeting. “In the absence of information, sometimes we get comfortable. And I can say that because I know I have to. But we believed in something, or someone or an agency, that if there’s an issue they will in fact do the right thing by us. But in a moment like this, you will become the strongest evidence you have.”
Brockovich, known for her legal battle against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in which she alleged the company dumped toxic chemicals in a California town’s drinking water, was invited by members of the community who reached out for help hours after the initial derailment, she said during the meeting.
Nearly 2,000 residents were temporarily evacuated soon after the derailment which occurred after wheel bearings severely overheated, a NatiOhio Tonal Transportation Security Board preliminary report released Thursday revealed.
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has maintained that the air quality nor the municipal water is not above exceeding levels and that the water is drinkable, but Brockovich maintained that while it may be safe today that data has the potential to change.
“In that moment it might have been safe, but tomorrow that might not be the circumstance,” she said, referring to a video of EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine drinking tap water on video.
Residents have reported headaches and rashes since the early February crash along with reports of sick pets. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that 43,000 aquatic animals were killed since the chemicals spilled into the local water streams.
“I can’t tell you how many communities feel these moments are the biggest gaslight of their life,” Brockovich told residents. “Because you experienced it, you have symptoms, you have issues, you want to be heard, but you’re going to be told it’s safe. You’re going to be told not to worry. But that’s just rubbish.”
She then said that she has “never seen anything in 30 years like” the East Palestine situation.
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Watts advised residents to monitor their health levels, including blood tests, to collect evidence that could be used in a potential lawsuit. He referred to a link on the East Palestine Justice website which lists clinics in Ohio and Pennsylvania within a 50-mile radius of the derailment site residents can visit for diagnostic testing.
East Palestine Justice is “is a team of attorneys, environmental activists, and scientific and medical experts representing community members affected by Norfolk Southern’s negligence,” according to its website.
“Famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich and longtime water expert Robert W. Bowcock will work, alongside our team of attorneys and medical experts, to ensure that Norfolk Southern is held accountable for causing known carcinogens and other highly toxic and harmful chemicals to be released into the environment in and around East Palestine, ultimately contaminating the air, water, and soil,” the website reads.
The team is “unafraid of taking on giant corporations, like Norfolk Southern, who routinely hide their culpability, while injuring people in the blind pursuit of profit.”
East Palestine Justice will hold a second meeting March 2 to go over the information again, Watts said during the meeting.
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