On Wednesday evening, residents of East Palestine, Ohio, and neighboring communities attended a town hall meeting held in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern train derailment earlier this month.
One East Palestine resident said that an initial air quality test was conducted in her home, which determined that it was safe to return. Her home, she said, lies seven feet from a stream, and she "threw a fit," demanding to have water testing done.
"The railroad called me today & said we will pay all of your moving expenses, your first month’s rent, and your last month’s rent because I can't go in that house," she said.
"How many of these people are sleeping in houses because they didn’t use their voices, and they didn’t throw a fit, and their kids are laying there breathing that stuff in?" she asked, which was met with a cheer from the crowd.
Residents expected to be able to press representatives from Norfolk Southern for answers, but representatives from the company did not attend.
In a statement obtained by ABC 5, Norfolk Southers said they couldn’t attend the town hall meeting because of concerns over "the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties."
"With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening," the statement continued. "We want to continue our dialogue with the community and address their concerns, and our people will remain in East Palestine, respond to this situation, and meet with residents."
Instead, residents directed their questions toward Mayor Trent Conaway, Representative Bill Johnson of Ohio, and agency officials, according to the New York Times.
The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported that a couple hundred people attended the meeting, packing into the East Palestine High School gymnasium.
"Is it OK to still be here? Are my kids safe? Are the people safe? Is the future of this community safe? We all know the severity of that question. What's at stake?" Lenny Glavan asked.
Alicia Robbins, who attended the meeting with her husband, said that she doesn’t feel comfortable bringing her two children back to East Palestine, even after the town hall meeting, noting that many of those living outside the mile perimeter of the derailment are "not getting our water, our soil, our air sampled," she said. "That's still scary for me."
Conaway emphasized that this would not be the last meeting on the issue.
"Everybody is frustrated," he told the crowd. "I understand this, and we’re trying to get answers."
State officials have continued to recommend drinking bottled water, as they continue to test private wells, municipal water, and streams.
One man said that he was traveling down Ohio State Route 170 on Sunday and thought he was "going to die" after he "took a breath of that *** into my lungs." He said, "it stressed me enough I ended up in the hospital."
"What did I breathe in?" he pressed. "What is everybody else breathing in?"
"Why are people getting sick if there is nothing in the air or the water?" another woman yelled.
One young boy asked, "how should us kids feel safe with the smell on our street?"
As one official took center stage, residents yelled that they had more questions, with the official responding, "I don’t know what to do about providing further assurance or —."
He was cut off by members of the crowd, who shouted, "stop lying to us."
"Understand we are doing all that can be done to look for sources of potential contamination," the official stated.
In addition to Norfolk Southern representatives, also missing from the meeting was Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
"Where’s Pete Buttigieg? Where’s he at?" one man from the crowd shouted.
"I don’t know. Your guess is as good as me," Conaway responded. "Yesterday was the first time I heard anything from the White House."
Other residents told Fox News of symptoms they have been having since the derailment, including swollen eyes, breaking out in rashes, headaches, and coughing.
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