Farmers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania are especially concerned that dioxins and other deadly chemicals may have spilled over onto their land, affecting their crops and livestock, and the soil where they grow and roam.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) have asked United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Michael Regan to address these concerns by sending resources to the region so farmers can test their soils, plant tissue, and livestock for chemical contaminants.
The trio also requested a review of what kinds of disaster assistance are most appropriate to offer to affected farmers, none of whom have received anything close to clear guidance about how to proceed for the spring planting and rearing season.
"Farmers in the region are already reporting receiving requests to cancel orders due to health concerns," a letter from the three senators reads. "Farmers and food producers in East Palestine and Darlington Township need assistance in responding to this manmade disaster."
(Related: The air quality in East Palestine is dismal, a scientific report found.)
The reason why farmers are specifically asking for disaster assistance to remediate the disaster is because there is a chance that consumers will be apprehensive about buying, or will flat-out refuse to buy, any produce or meat from the region even if test results come up negative.
"Senators Casey and Fetterman have worked tirelessly to support Pennsylvanians and Ohioans impacted by this disaster in the short term, namely advocating for resources and holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the harm the derailment has inflicted, in addition to working to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future," a press release about the letter said.
Fetterman continues to struggle with serious health issues. The day of the derailment, he had to be taken to George Washington University Hospital for lightheadedness potentially related to a stroke he suffered on the campaign trail related to cardiac problems.
After leaving the hospital on February 10, Fetterman was checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for depression. Adam Jentleson, his chief of staff, tweeted the following about his condition:
"Productive morning with Senator Fetterman at Walter Reed discussing the rail safety legislation, Farm Bill, and other Senate business. John is well on his way to recovery and wanted me to say how grateful he is for all the well wishes. He's laser-focused on PA & will be back soon."
Another letter that Fetterman also signed was sent to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw asking how his company plans to assist farmers and others throughout the region with their short-term water needs.
"What will be done in the long-term if water sources are contaminated by the hazardous materials that leaked out of tanker cars or that were created during the explosion and subsequent fires?" that letter asks, along with numerous other questions.
"What is the company's plan to reimburse local farmers if their crops, soil, or livestock are found to be injured, killed, contaminated, or in any way rendered less valuable by the derailment or its effects?"
"What are the company's plans for remediation and disposal of impacted soils? Will any of the materials need to be transported off-site for treatment and disposal? And how will the company ensure communities are protected along the transportation route?"
The latest news about the situation in East Palestine can be found at Disaster.news.
Sources for this article include: