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Ohio governor sips water from East Palestine homes in bid to prove it's safe

ABC News

(EAST PALESTINE, Ohio) — Standing around her kitchen sink, East Palestine, Ohio, resident Carolyn Brown told Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, EPA Administrator Michael Regan and other officials that it is the “uncertainty” that weighs on her, and her community, right now.

“There’s so much uncertainty about it. And that really gets to me emotionally,” Brown said. “My main concern is for the people that was closest to that accident, and a lot of them are younger than me and have children and — I just feel — it’s hard to see people going through things, you know, and the uncertainty of everything,” she said, her voice quavering slightly.

“You don’t know who to trust, that’s a big part of it, the uncertainty, you don’t know if you’re going to have to move,” she said. “We need to feel that we’re safe.”

It was 18 days ago that 50 cars on a Norfolk Southern Railroad train traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania derailed in East Palestine. Eleven of those cars contained hazardous materials, five of which contained vinyl chloride, a highly volatile colorless gas produced for commercial uses. Officials decided, in order to avoid a major explosion, to evacuate the area around the derailment and burn off the chemicals.

In the days since they were allowed to return, residents have complained of itchy eyes and skin and respiratory problems.

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“We know this is a long road, and we will be here until the end,” Regan said Tuesday.

DeWine said the community would not be forgotten, even after the cameras were gone. He said that testing would continue and the health clinic, set to open Tuesday, would be there to address people’s concerns.

Brown’s house is connected to the municipal water supply, she said, and DeWine told her the testing had come back so far showing that water was “safe.”

“We just need to continue to test. We think things are alright. We know things are all right now. And we just need to make sure that in the future they’re all right as well,” he said.

“So, it’s safe to drink the water?” Brown asked. “Because I haven’t even brushed my teeth with it.”

The officials assured her that it was safe.

“Did someone want to drink the water?” Brown asked.

In a chorus, the officials said, absolutely. Brown poured glasses of water from her tap. The group clinked glasses and took a sip.

“We believe in science,” Regan said. “We don’t feel like we’re being your guinea pig, but we don’t mind proving to you that we believe the water is safe.”

The officials next visited the home of a former chemistry teacher, Andris Baputnis. They drank his tap water too.

An EPA official demonstrated the sensitivity of the air quality monitors they’re using.

“As you can see in your home right now, it fluctuates a little bit,” the official said. “It’ll pick up like, hairspray … like when I hold it close to my body, it’ll pick up my deodorant. … So, that’s how sensitive these things are and that’s what we’ve been using to screen the homes and we assume it’s worst case until we can prove otherwise.”

“If there’s anything we can do at EPA, please let us know,” Regan told Baputnis.

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