Residents near Ohio chemical train derailment site urged to take tests amid 'gaslighting' fears

Erin Brockovich at a town hall - Michael Swensen/Getty
Erin Brockovich at a town hall - Michael Swensen/Getty

Residents of an Ohio town affected by a chemical train derailment have been urged to get blood and urine tests, despite officials telling them it was safe to return to their homes.

Erin Brokovich, the famed environmentalist, said there were attempts to "gaslight" residents of East Palestine as she warned of the long-term risks of the toxic spill.

She held a town hall in a packed high school auditorium on Friday night alongside lawyers and told the audience to fight for recognition and trust their instincts.

“You want to be heard, but you’re going to be told it’s safe, you’re going to be told not to worry,” Ms Brockovich said. “That’s just rubbish.”

"It's very obvious something's really gone wrong out here," she later told Fox News, noting that schools have shuttered drinking fountains and some private wells have locks on them.

The Norfolk and Southern derailed freight train - Gene J. Puskar/AP
The Norfolk and Southern derailed freight train - Gene J. Puskar/AP

"[The residents] don't feel that their agencies or their administration cares about what's happened to the communities," she added.

At Friday's meeting, attorney Mikal Watts urged people to get their blood and urine tested as soon as possible to help establish whether they have been exposed to dangerous substances and that could be helpful if they take legal action.

“The court of public opinion and a court of law are different,” he told the crowd. “We need evidence.”

A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of the town earlier this month.

Officials opted to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke billowing into the sky, forcing evacuations as residents feared for their health.

State and federal officials have repeatedly said tests have shown that East Palestine’s air and water are safe, and it was safe for residents to return to their homes.

Ms Brokovich, who was immortalised in a Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts portraying her battle against Pacific Gas & Electric over groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, in 1993, on Friday travelled to East Palestine to assist residents.

Local waterways in East Palestine - Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg
Local waterways in East Palestine - Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg

Speaking to Fox, Ms Brokovich said locals' observations do not tally with official advice, particularly in regard to drinking water.

"Come on, we're out here, 44,000 fish are dead. We've seen them. We've seen them out here today aerating the creeks. They're removing stuff. The wellheads are locked. What's up?" she said.

She said of the official response: "You've sent a horrible mixed message to this community - drink the water, don't drink the water. Safe, not safe."

"You can explain it away all day long to me, that nothing's wrong. But I see what's going on here. You're not going to gaslight me."

The state says the local municipal drinking water system is safe, and bottled water is available while testing is conducted for those with private wells.