Concerned residents packed a high school auditorium as activist Erin Brockovich and attorneys warned of the long-term health and environmental dangers of chemicals released after a burning train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Brooke Hofmeister, a mother of two young children, said she feared for her health and felt worse than before about the situation after listening to the presentation.
“The truth is pretty scary,” said the 29-year-old.
She and her husband, Cory Hofmeister, said they didn’t feel safe in their hometown and weren’t sure about staying, echoing concerns expressed by many who attended the two-hour session.
It was sponsored by East Palestine Justice, a group made up of Ms. Brockovich, lawyers, and scientific and medical experts.
No one was injured when 38 Norfolk Southern cars derailed in a fiery and wrecked disaster on the outskirts of town on February 3.
As fears of a possible explosion grew, officials seeking to prevent a wildfire evacuated the area, opting instead to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five train cars, causing flames and black smoke to spread. They will rise up into the sky again.
More than 2,000 people registered to attend the meeting on Friday, and the crowds spilled into the school gym.
Ms. Brockovich, who rose to fame and was portrayed in film for fighting Pacific Gas & Electric Company over groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, told the audience to fight for recognition and trust her instincts.
“You want them to listen to you, but they’ll tell you it’s safe, they’ll tell you not to worry,” Brockovich said.
“That’s just rubbish, because you’re going to worry. Communities want to be seen and heard.”
The health and environmental risks will remain for years, he said.
“Don’t wait for someone to give you the answers. Unfortunately, this is not a quick fix. This is going to be a long game.”
Ms. Brockovich and her associates are among a number of legal teams that have come to the area and offer to speak with residents about possible litigation over the derailment.
Several lawsuits have already been filed.
Federal and state officials have repeatedly said that it is safe for evacuated residents to return to the area and that air tests in the city and inside hundreds of homes have not detected worrying levels of pollutants from the fires and burned chemicals.
The state says the local municipal drinking water system is safe and bottled water is available while testing is conducted for those with private wells.
Despite those assurances and a series of press conferences and visits by politicians, including this week from top Biden administration officials and former President Donald Trump, many residents still express a sense of mistrust or have lingering questions about what they’ve been up to. exposed and how it will have an impact on the future of their families and their communities.
At the meeting on Friday night, attorney Mikal Watts urged people to get their blood and urine tested immediately, saying the results could help establish whether they have been exposed to dangerous substances and could be useful if they take legal action. .
“The court of public opinion and a court of law are different,” he said.
“We need proof.”
The Hofmeisters were among local residents who later said they intended to get tested.
Greg McCormick, 40, a lifelong resident of East Palestine who was among those evacuated after the train derailment, said he would consider getting tested.
“I am lost, like everyone else here,” he said.
“We don’t know where we are going, what we are doing. … We are about to lose our Mayberry, but we are absolutely certain that we are going to fight for it.”