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East Palestine residents want FEMA to address long-term needs

© iStock - den-belitsky
Nadia Ramlagan

(Ohio News Connection) Four months after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, residents say they continue to struggle with ongoing health problems, and face an uncertain future without federal help in the form of an emergency disaster declaration.

Cindy Walter, a resident of East Palestine, said she has been staying in hotels after developing health problems in her home. She explained since the derailment, she has had a series of doctors' visits, and now has to use an inhaler.

"Because I'm having a hard time breathing," Walter noted. "She also gave me a nasal spray because of the cough and the hoarseness, the burning eyes and the hard time breathing."

Walter added she wants Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the chemical spill, to pay for home air purifiers. According to the Ohio EPA, nearly 7,000 tons of excavated contaminated soil sits in piles waiting to be removed from the site.

Amanda Kiger, co-executive director of River Valley Organizing, a local advocacy group, is hosting a community meeting next month on air quality in the region. She said without FEMA assistance, families will struggle to find alternative places to stay, or be forced to go back into potentially unsafe housing.

"We would get things like FEMA trailers, FEMA housing," Kiger emphasized. "We would be able to fast-track that federal help, to be able to get that cleaned up."

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said he has been told by FEMA the chemical spill does not qualify because it was not a natural disaster, like a tornado or flood. However, the federal agency has given DeWine an extension to request a major disaster declaration for damages. The deadline is July 3.