Residents near the site of a toxic train derailment say they are afraid to take showers because of the fear of contamination.
It has been almost three weeks since about 50 freight carriages on a 150-car Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, and the controlled burn a few days later of the toxic cocktail being carried by five of the cars.
It is thought that the train was carrying the highly flammable and carcinogenic vinyl chloride, which can cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness and even some cancers.
More than 1.5 million gallons of contaminants and contaminated water have been removed from the area since the crash, authorities say.
Doug Brayshaw, 63, told NBC he was sitting on his porch when he spotted a black plume of smoke rising from the scene of the derailment.
He added: “We’re afraid to shower.
“I won’t even give my dog drinking water out of my well right now, because I’m worried.”
Amanda Greathouse told CNN she had returned to her house for about 30 minutes when she developed a rash and nausea, and that her eyes were “burning”.
She added: “That’s when we decided that we couldn’t raise our kids here.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it began testing air quality within 24 hours of the derailment and is also helping to monitor air quality indoors.
So far it has reported that vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride amounts are not found above levels of concern.
But the 4,700 people of East Palestine are still worried – since the derailment, there have been reports of headaches, irritated eyes and other problems.
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‘Increased risk of cancer’
Ila Cote, a former EPA toxicologist, said: “The data on cancer risk from a single high exposure is not good.
“But it would certainly be safe to say that if people had been highly exposed to vinyl chloride, they would incur increased risk of cancer.”
Mo Osman, who runs a lab hired by the county to analyse its water samples, told NBC: “If a well is safe right now, we don’t know what the quality of that water is going to be in a week, a month or two months.
“It takes time for pollution to potentially travel from the source of contamination to the individual well, so it is very important to continue sampling at a certain frequency.”
‘Have fun, everybody’
Donald Trump, who is running for president next year, was in the town on Wednesday, taking the opportunity to criticise the federal response to the disaster.
He told residents: “In too many cases, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal.”
Mr Trump stopped at a McDonald’s to give out hats, ordered meals for emergency workers and picked up food for his plane ride home.
He donated cleaning supplies and Trump-branded bottled water to those worried about the safety of their tap water, signing autographs before telling supporters: “Have fun, everybody.”
Mr Trump said that he hoped US President Joe Biden would have “some money left over” for the residents of East Palestine after his return from this week’s trip to Ukraine.
In response, the White House criticised Mr Trump for not doing enough as president to toughen rail and environmental laws.
Train operator will not ‘get off the hook’
Meanwhile, EPA administrator Michael Regan, who visited the site last week, vowed that Norfolk Southern would be made to clean up the damage left by the derailment.
He said: “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.
“In no way shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess they created.”
Norfolk Southern’s chief financial officer Mark George responded: “We take responsibility… We’re fully dedicated to making things right.
“We’re here for the long term.”