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Angry Ohio residents confront railroad over health fears during town forum

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People living near a derailed freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, turned up for a town hall meeting last night. Unlike some other meetings, representatives of the railroad showed up; so did federal regulators and Julie Grant of the environmental radio show "Allegheny Front."

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's everywhere.

JULIE GRANT: This was the first time Norfolk Southern faced the people of East Palestine directly, and the company's Darrell Wilson stood on the high school auditorium stage as one person after another explained how the contamination has harmed them. Some told stories of houses covered in black soot. Others spoke of children vomiting and constant headaches. One man said he'd lost his job and was afraid to plant a garden, while another said he couldn't get financing to buy a new house. To all of this, Wilson apologized. He said the company is very sorry and feels horrible about it. But that just wasn't enough for the crowd of angry and devastated people who don't feel it's safe to go home but can't afford to move. At the raucous meeting, people shouted over Wilson, imploring Norfolk Southern to pay for them to move elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: If you care about us, get our grandkids out of here now. Get my children out. Do you care?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Get us out.

GRANT: The company and regulators spoke of their efforts to continue monitoring the air, test the drinking water, clean the streams and remove waste from the derailment site. There's been a call to test for dioxins, cancer-causing chemicals that can be created in combustion, like the chemical explosion whose plume darken the sky for miles around. The EPA had declined to test for it until shortly before this meeting, when the agency announced it would require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins. Kristin Battaglia (ph) works in supply chain management and takes care of her grandmother, the former mayor of East Palestine. She says this area has been in recovery from the loss of its steel economy decades ago and more recently from the opioid crisis.

KRISTIN BATTAGLIA: We were reversing that. It just breaks my heart, all the hard work that these good-hearted people have done to try to regain our economy, and this has just - it's just shattered it.

GRANT: For NPR News, I'm Julie Grant in East Palestine, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie Grant