Mom who fled with baby after toxic spill wants officers in Ohio city to ‘drink the water’

Kasie Locke, left, is seen with her husband Nate holding their two-month-old son Lucas on Sunday.  The family fled their home in East Palestine, Ohio, hours after the Feb. 3 freight train derailment.  (CBC - photo credit)

Kasie Locke, left, is seen with her husband Nate holding their two-month-old son Lucas on Sunday. The family fled their home in East Palestine, Ohio, hours after the Feb. 3 freight train derailed in the city. (CBC – photo credit)

A couple with a young son who fled their home after a toxic train derailment in Ohio earlier this month are unconvinced it’s safe to return home, despite what state officials have said.

The February 3 derailment prompted officials to evacuate hundreds of people from their homes in the city of eastern Palestine amid fears that a dangerous, flammable material could ignite.

To prevent toxic vinyl chloride gas – used in the manufacture of PVC plastic – from exploding, officials conducted a controlled release of the fumes. The gas was vented and burned after being diverted into a ditch, sending a cloud of smoke over the city for days.

East Palestinian residents Kasie and Nathaniel Locke recall the night of the derailment, when Kasie told CBC News they have been “stuck in limbo” ever since, living with their mother in northern Lima, about 16 minutes’ drive from the site.

CLOCK | Ohio family describes disorders and health effects of toxic accidents:

Dozens of cars on the Pennsylvania freight train derailed just before 9 p.m. on a Friday, and the young family left home at around 2 a.m. the next day.

There was a “really strong smell” of burnt rubber and oil, and they “couldn’t breathe,” Nathaniel said.

“We both had to wrap our faces in Lucas blankets.”

They said they had headaches, runny noses, and burning and numb eyes and throats.

Kasie said it was “scary” to think about her child’s health.

“It’s very scary. I mean, we don’t feel safe going back … not with a two-month-old,” she said. “I can’t do it consciously. I don’t know what effect it will have on his health.”

She said baby Lucas has since been taken to Akron Children’s Hospital to have his nose suctioned and they have used saline and a nasal aspirator to manage his congestion, adding that she is not sure if he is ill be or whether the symptoms are related derailment.

Evacuation orders were lifted on Feb. 8 when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other officials said it was safe for community residents to return home.

State testing of municipal drinking water

DeWine said Friday a plume of pollution that had moved down the Ohio River had dissipated, and state testing had never shown contaminated water making its way into municipal drinking systems.

In response to the derailment and safety concerns it raises, US Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell said late Friday she had launched an investigation into safety practices for hazardous materials on railroads.

Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Michael Swensen/Getty Images

The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency learned first-hand about the consequences of the derailment on Thursday.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Thursday that anyone afraid to be in their home should get tested by the government.

“People were unnerved. They have been asked to leave their homes,” he said, adding that he would be willing to bring his family back to the area if he lived there, as long as tests show it’s safe.

The Ohio EPA said the latest tests show five wells that supply the city’s drinking water are free of contaminants.

Dustin Franz/AFP/Getty Images

Dustin Franz/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Sunday he would urge major railroads to improve safety in the face of the derailment.

In a letter to railroad manager Alan Shaw – whose Norfolk Southern company operated the derailed train – Buttigieg added that he would ask Congress to raise the ceiling on fines against railroads for safety violations.

Norfolk Southern said Sunday it “has received a copy of the letter from the secretary and is reviewing it.” Shaw said last week the railroad established an initial $1 million community support fund and distributed $1.7 million in direct financial assistance to more than 1,100 families and businesses to help meet evacuation costs .

“We will not let you down,” he told residents in a letter.

“Would you bring your family back?”

Kasie Locke has a challenge for officials who believe the city of 4,700 is a safe place to live.

“I want them to stay in East Palestine and drink the water, shower with the water. I want you to tell us, would you like to live here? Would you bring your children here? Would you bring your family with you? return? Because it would be hard for me to believe that they would say yes.”

Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press

Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that they are deploying a team of medical workers and toxicologists to conduct public health testing and assessments.

Federal Railroad Administration chief Amit Bose will visit the site next week, and the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up testing.


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