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East Palestine farmers wait for plant tissue sampling results

A large sign on the side of the road exiting East Palestine reads, "East Palestine, The place to be... Come Back Soon."
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
A sign on the side of the road as drivers exit East Palestine, Ohio. After the February toxic train derailment, many area farmers have been concerned about the safety of their crops and livestock.

Farmers in East Palestine are awaiting results of plant tissue sampling to see if the February train derailment impacted the area’s agriculture. The derailment led to a controlled release and burn of the carcinogen vinyl chloride. The train was carrying several other chemicals which were released as a result of the derailment including butyl acrylate, Ethylene glycol and ethylhexyl acrylate, all of which carry short-term and long-term health concerns.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture's plant health inspectors took 32 crop tissue samples, including winter wheat, pasture grass, malting barley and forage covers, from 16 properties in Columbiana County within a five mile radius of the derailment. The department recognized the need for this testing after meeting with local farmers, Director Brian Baldridge said.

“I think they’re just looking forward to being able to push back on somebody who wants to say that their product, in this case the milk, was not safe," Baldridge said.

At a March 9 meeting, officials reassured local farmers and said there was no evidence the area's agriculture system was impacted by the derailment.

The Department of Agriculture developed the plan in conjunction with Ohio State University to specifically address the concerns of community members.

“You just can’t all of a sudden come up with a test today as you outline the parameters of the test, so it took some structuring," Baldridge said. "And it probably took us just a little bit longer to set this up than what we thought it was going to, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”

This type of testing wasn't readily available, Baldridge explained.

“I mean I think this is unique. This is not something we deal with every day," Baldridge said. "Early on, we were reaching out to private sector companies, and it was not an easy answer of ‘Yes, we can do this test,’ or ‘No, we cannot do this test.’”

The plant samples are currently being analyzed in an OSU lab for a list of semi volatile organic compounds.

"We look for an approximately three week window to possibly four weeks to get that information tallied and to be able to disseminate that out into the community," Baldridge said.

The sampling began the week of April 10. Results will be released to landowners before being made public.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.