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Lacking answers, East Palestine residents plan to test soil, water

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Nadia Ramlagan

(Ohio News Connection) East Palestine, Ohio, residents have been given the green light to return home, but many believe it is not safe to do so. They're experiencing skin rashes, nausea, burning eyes and other symptoms after a Norfolk Southern train derailed there two weeks ago, spewing toxic chemicals.

A controlled burn of the highly combustible chemical cocktail released more toxic fumes into the air for miles.

Jamie Cozza, a resident of East Palestine, said although hotel reimbursements after a temporary evacuation have stopped, she is not taking her three-year-old daughter Kyla back home, because she does not feel it is safe to breathe the air or drink the water.

"It was a chemical smell, almost like a paint thinner," Cozza recounted. "It had even gotten into my clothes that were in the dryer. Your nose would burn, your mouth, your eyes. You could just feel it in the air when you're breathing in -- like, in your chest -- and that's the smell that still in the creeks."

In a news release last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state officials maintain evacuated residents can now safely return to their homes in and around East Palestine, and those who are not comfortable doing so can request assistance with hotel expenses from the railroad.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it has screened nearly 300 homes and reported no detection of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride.

Amanda Kiger, co-executive director of River Valley Organizing, is not convinced the agency has done a thorough job. She is angry state leaders have not contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get people better compensation and housing assistance.

"Many folks have been forced back home and don't believe it's safe," Kiger asserted. "They want answers. They want good, concise, clear answers."

Kiger pointed out residents can meet with scientists and sign up for independent soil and water testing for their homes and property at a community meeting coming up. It is Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. ET. Kiger advised checking the River Valley Organizing Facebook Page for updates on the location.

"We're partnering with some groups in Pennsylvania to actually have a real town hall that is bringing in the scientists to speak with folks, and also some representatives from Fair Shake Legal Services," Kiger outlined. "Not to take on clients, but actually to disseminate this information back to people."

Cozza added for now, she is staying in West Virginia, but is stressed about what the future holds.

"We honestly don't know. We don't know," Cozza stated. "We're just kind of taking it day by day, and my biggest fear is taking my baby back there.