Health Concerns Mount in East Palestine Weeks After Ohio Train Derailment

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“When you’re a physician, you have to call out that you just don’t know,” said Dr. James Kravec, an internist and the chief clinical officer of Mercy Health-Youngstown, which has a primary care practice in East Palestine. “With high blood pressure or diabetes, it’s pretty straightforward. Right now, doctors want to run a test — order something — and they can’t. That’s hard for them.”

Toxicology experts say that children are of particular concern when chemicals are burned and disseminated into the air, because they typically breathe faster and have smaller lungs. A dose of toxins that is negligible to an adult could have a significant impact on a child, said Dr. Mary Prunicki, a Stanford researcher focused on the health effects of air pollutants. If one of the gases causes bronchospasm or inflammation of the airway, a child “has much less leeway than a healthy adult,” she said.

The Mascher granddaughters are a prime example. The morning before the derailment, the three girls enjoyed their daily routine. Mr. Mascher’s daughter, Adyson Glavan — the girls’ Aunt Addy — dropped off her own three daughters at Mr. Mascher’s. He made breakfast for all six granddaughters while they fed the guinea pigs and practiced cartwheels in the front yard.

That night, the train derailed, and two days later, as smoke billowed from the railroad tracks, all six girls developed runny noses and bronchitis-like coughs. Raylix, Kayton and Brayla — whom Mr. Mascher cares for — broke out in rashes. Two of Ms. Glavan’s daughters, Vivian and Vayda, began to vomit. The sprawling family loaded into two S.U.V.s to temporarily evacuate.

Michael S. Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said officials were “testing for everything that was on that train.” But, toxicology experts say, the chemical makeup of a spill changes over time as it ages and interacts with the atmosphere, the soil and the groundwater, creating copious new threats that cannot be easily profiled.

Vinyl chloride, for example, the chemical that was carried in five of the cars, can cause toxic fumes made up of new compounds like carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a substance classified as a lethal chemical weapon in World War I, according to Dr. Prunicki. Burning vinyl chloride can also produce dioxins, which are known to cause cancer, infertility, Type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease and immune disorders.

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