A train derailment and its resulting chemical fire earlier this month has killed an estimated 43,000 fish and other aquatic wildlife around East Palestine, Ohio, Breitbart reported. A report from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources found that the contamination stretched for at least five miles of waterway.
In the announcement Thursday, ODNR director Mary Mertz said that the greatest impact was on the minnow population, with roughly 38,222 of the fish found dead. Another 5,550 other aquatic wildlife, including amphibians, macroinvertebrates, crayfish, and other small fish, have also been killed.
"Although dead aquatic species still remain in the impacted waterways, the entirety of the impact to the aquatic life is believed to have occurred in the first 24 hours after the derailment," the report said. Mertz explained that "these small fish are all believed to have been killed immediately after the derailment."
The agency went on to claim that there was no "immediate threat" and that fish had returned to the Leslie Run Creek. The agency collected the dead fish to minimize impacts on land and water animals that feed on them.
“Since then, additional work has been completed to remove more dead fish from the water, although that removal is not part of the survey,” Mertz said. "The investigation has thus far concluded that of the 7-and-a-half-mile impacted area, the species were killed over a 5-mile span."
"We do not believe any of these animals were made sick by the train derailment, but we have submitted those specimens to the Ohio Department of Agriculture and will wait for those test results before making that judgment," Mertz assured the public.
Mertz said that investigations were "based on science," perhaps attempting to make the agency's claims unimpeachable. "These scientific methods include the collection of data and specimens as soon as possible, which is what happened," she added.
"Four collection stations were established to gather necessary data, in this case dead aquatic species." The investigation took place between February 6 and 7, just days after the derailment.
A freight train carrying approximately 20 cars carrying dangerous chemicals such as butyl acrylate, benzene, and vinyl chloride, jumped the tracks on February 3, Fox News reported. Responders initiated a controlled burn to keep the train cars full of harmful substances from exploding.
However, area residents are crying foul after dealing with the fallout, including immediate impacts on their health. "The air is still terrible — absolutely terrible," a woman who lived there told the news outlet.
"I will not take my children in there because of that… burning of the eyes, trouble breathing, and then I just get nauseous within 10 minutes," she said about returning to her home. "My husband popped in to try to get anything, you know, phone charger, things that they say are safe, [but] you cannot get the smell out."
"That does not come out," the woman emphasized. She also reported that children there, including her daughter, developed a rash from exposure to the chemicals that "looks almost like a sunburn."
However, authorities keep insisting that the air and water are safe for residents, notwithstanding the 43,000 dead animals the ODNR has found. It seems they're asking people to simply trust the science.
These studies and reports can be helpful, but it's easy to understand why residents are skeptical. It would be wonderful if these dangerous chemicals had completely burned up in the inferno, but it looks more like wishful thinking considering the evidence to the contrary.