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East Palestine residents seek legal advice after train derailment

Community members attend a meeting at East Palestine High School on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Community members attend a meeting at East Palestine High School on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Norfolk Southern did not attend the meeting, citing concerns of a growing physical threat to employees. Now, residents are turning to lawyers to get answers they say they can't get from the company.

An Ohio law firm is among those hoping to answer questions East Palestine residents have after the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical release earlier this month.

Personal injury law firm Kisling, Nestico and Redick is offering free consultations to residents. Mike Maillis , a partner with the firm, hopes to give residents answers they haven’t been able to get from officials.

“There were a lot of questions asked, and a lot of the answers – they really weren’t answers," Maillis said. "And I could see that the people were getting really very frustrated, so unfortunately sometimes lawyers are in the best position to get the answers.”

Resident Loretta Kunkle said a lack of response from Norfolk Southern prompted her to get legal advice.

“They did wrong. They know they did wrong in many ways," Kunkle said. "Just step to the plate and help the people.”

Norfolk Southern's decision to pull out of a community meeting last week due to what they said was a growing physical threat to employees has garnered criticism from officials and residents.

“They don’t show up, and I understand they were probably fearful," Kunkle said. "And I understand that, but what do you think we are? We’ve got kids. What do you think we are?”

Several class action lawsuits have already been filed by residents.

The Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3, and residents were ordered to evacuate Feb. 5, after a change in temperature led officials to be concerned about a catastrophic tanker failure that could cause an explosion and deadly shrapnel. The train was carrying several hazardous materials, including the carcinogen vinyl chloride which had become unstable. Officials performed a controlled release of the vinyl chloride on Feb. 6.

The evacuation order was lifted on Feb. 8, and officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA said the air and water were safe. However, after returning home, residents have been complaining of symptoms related to the released chemicals, including rashes, headaches and nausea. The U.S. and Ohio EPA are still on the scene monitoring the air and water quality, but it is unknown what the long-term impact of these chemicals will be on the residents or the environment.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.
Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.