Perspectives on a train derailment 40 years ago End-shutdown

“Some people complained of nausea and headaches,” Cutrer said of Livingston. The same has happened in Eastern Palestine.

Wary residents of both cities turned to bottled water as officials scrambled to reduce the risk of hazardous materials contaminating groundwater.

“They were very upset. They had meetings all over the place,” Cutrer said of Livingston residents. “Air and water quality: that’s what the talks were about. They were afraid to drink the water.”

Earlier this week in Eastern Palestine, Gov. Mike DeWine and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan drank the local tap water in public to reassure residents that it was safe.

That demonstration just proves that the water is safe to drink today. Regular monitoring of the water will be needed, something implemented for decades in Livingston, he said. Abinash Agrawalprofessor of environmental sciences at Wright State University in Ohio.

“We don’t know how much vinyl chloride has been seen in the soil,” Agrawal said. “Once it hits the ground, it will travel.”

Agrawal said it could take months or longer to create a detailed three-dimensional map of where the toxic chemicals entered the soil and if and how they are spreading in the East Palestine site. It is possible that chemicals could travel to public well sites in East Palestine, Agrawal said, adding that more data and field evidence is needed to assess that risk to drinking water. Cleaning up a contaminated aquifer could take five to 10 years, Agrawal said.

Years of environmental testing and legal wrangling are likely ahead of us. At least 14 lawsuits have been filed for the impacts of the derailment in the East Palestine area.

In the weeks after the Livingston derailment, local attorneys filed a class action lawsuit against the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, according to Calvin Fayard Jr., an attorney who led the coalition.

The class action lawsuit, which was settled in 1985, ultimately guided the cleanup and reclamation process and reshaped the city. The $39 million settlement paid more than 3,000 residents, created a commission to make recovery decisions, and set aside funds to pay for long-term impacts.

Flames and smoke rise from the Livingston, Louisiana, train derailment in 1982.Environmental protection agency

The agreement provided funding for 30 years of regular water monitoring and established a fund to maintain a health clinic in Livingston, where residents could have a physical and blood exam every year for contaminants. The clinic is still standing.

Some damage was handled separately. A jury awarded nearly $3 million to Terry Wisner, a state police officer who responded to the derailment and later developed headaches, difficulty swallowing, and shortness of breath. Wisner retired at age 38 due to his symptoms.

The environmental recovery of the town became a protracted affair.

As part of the remediation, workers dug up affected soil to a depth of 50 feet and replaced it, Fayard said. They also pumped contaminated water. Additional remediation efforts against perchlorethylene, a solvent used in dry cleaning, continued into the 2010s.

Aside from the cases involving first responders, Bennett said he was unaware of lawsuits in which Livingston residents claimed years later that long-term health problems stemmed from chemical exposure. The tests never identified any specific concerns, although many residents skipped clinic visits.

“Getting that free annual poison control visit just wasn’t on people’s priority list,” Bennett said. “In hindsight, this would have been an excellent opportunity for a long-term clinical study.”

Contaminants gradually spread into the soil and groundwater, but within acceptable limits.

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