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No evidence East Palestine agriculture system was impacted by train derailment, officials say

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Gene J. Puskar
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. More than a month after the derailment, farmers are still concerned what kind of impact it could have on their livestock and crops.

Farmers in Columbiana County got some reassurance Thursday about the safety of their livestock and crops following the train derailment in East Palestine.

Columbiana County farmers sit and watch a roundtable discussion between officials.
Kennedy Gotham
Ideastream Public Media
Columbiana County farmers received reassurance of the safety of their livestock and crops at a roundtable attended by federal, state and local officials on March 9, 2023.

Federal, state and local officials met with area farmers and laid out their plan to test soil in locations most impacted by the derailment, which will begin tomorrow.

"We want to sample worst case conditions," Mark Durno with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said. "Again, if we see ash or soot we'll collect an individual discreet sample with that ash. If we don't, we'll collect a sample of the top one inch of soil to determine if soil has been impacted."

Soil results will take one to two weeks. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is also partnering with the Ohio State University to develop a plan to test milk, eggs and plant materials.

Local farmer Melissa Smith feels confident in officials.

"We're happy to see that the Department of Agriculture, that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the Environmental Protection Agency, everybody is working hand in hand with the county and local officials to look out for us," Smith said. "We really appreciate it."

But she's anxious to see results from soil sampling.

"These are answers that we need to know now so that we can move on with our lives," Smith said.

Austin Chamberlain helps operate a family farm and butcher shop. He feels confident he can communicate the safety of their products to customers.

“And it’s kind of easy to tell them ‘Hey. We have an inspector here every day inspecting product that you guys in turn consume,'" Chamberlain said.

Smith also thinks she'll be able to communicate with customers about this but noted it's harder when there's so much misinformation online.

"There's always going to be somebody doubting," Smith said. "I mean we have a level of distrust in our country right now with a lot of things and so you know all we can do is just keep putting out - once we have those results, if they are positive, just keeping with that same messaging."

Neither Smith nor Chamberlain's farm have been impacted by the derailment and release of hazardous chemicals.

"I mean we have seen no livestock become ill," Chamberlain said. "You know the feed that we were feeding that livestock all look just as good as it was beforehand."

Animals from East Palestine taken to state labs showed zero signs of any chemical exposure in the aftermath of the train derailment, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

"There was nothing chemical related that we could link to, a lot of different things, but nothing that we could connect with what has occurred here," Director Brian Baldridge said. "And that's strictly the facts with what has come in to our lab."

One calf and 10 wildlife species were tested after their deaths. Meat inspectors were also called into the state for potential concerns in Trumbull, Mahoning, Stark, Portage and Columbiana Counties, Baldridge said.

"35 times inspectors have called in vets," Baldridge said. "Five cases, those carcasses were kicked out and none of those were, again, determined from the chemical side of any concerns that way."

Officials said there’s no evidence so far that the area’s agricultural system was impacted by the derailment.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.
Kennedy Gotham was a news intern in the spring and summer of 2023. A journalism major with a minor in media advocacy at Kent State University, she plans to graduate in May 2024.