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In the US, East Palestine church organises fundraising to equip residents with air purifiers

United States
RNS

Since a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, in February, spilling about a million pounds of hazardous chemicals, the town’s 4,700 residents have been anxious about the toxic substances that may be present in their water, air and soil.

“People are still really nervous about the air and the water…especially young mothers; they are scared to death for their kids,” said Bob Helbeck, who leads the First Church of Christ in East Palestine.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

 This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed on 3rd February, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio, still on fire at midday the next day. PICTURE: AP Photo/Gene J Puskar.

This week, the church announced a fundraising drive to provide air purifiers to families and local businesses in partnership with the air purifying firm Germ Solutions USA.

Shortly after the disaster, the congregation began distributing air purifiers, equipping 500 families and 160 elementary, junior high and high school classrooms with the devices. The church hopes this fundraising will allow it to buy at least 2,500 more air purifiers.

After the disaster, some residents reported suffering from respiratory illnesses, nosebleeds, eye infections and rashes. Many families have left the town over health concerns, about 200, said pastor Helbeck, who has seen five church families leave the town since February.

The derailment led to a massive fire, and a week after the incident, authorities proceeded to do a “controlled burn” to prevent a potential cargo explosion. The operation released a toxic smoke that loomed over the town for days.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which conducts multiple monthly tests, claims toxins in the air remain “below screening levels.” The Ohio Emergency Management Agency continues to ensure East Palestine’s water contains no toxic substances associated with the derailment. Still, residents fear the consequences of prolonged exposure to toxins.



A recent test by Eco Integrated Technology found that East Palestine’s soil presented a level of dioxin, a toxic compound, 27,000 per cent to 164,000 per cent higher than usual. In March, an investigative team from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interrupted its surveillance operation when seven team members presented “suspicious symptoms.” 

“If there is anything in the air, this will really help. And if there is nothing in the air, then it will reassure people,” Helbeck said about providing more air filters.

The initiative also aims to reassure visitors who might come to town, the number of which has dropped considerably after the incident, impacting local businesses’ activity. Many shops have decreased their business by about 50%, said Helbeck.

“People used to come in here to do shopping. And now they go 10 minutes down the road,” he said.


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 The church and Germ Solutions USA are raising funds through the organisation “HelpEastPalestineOhio” and mentioned that for every air purifier bought with donations, Germ Solutions USA will donate one unit for free.

The devices can cover a 2,000-square-foot surface and are similar to the Food and Drug Administration Class 2 purification system used in hospitals. They kill 99.9 per cent of contaminants in the air and on surfaces, including COVID-19 germs.

“It takes away the anxiety, if nothing else. It doesn’t hurt. … It does give peace of mind, and I think that’s the biggest thing right now,” said Helbeck.

 

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