Photo by Doug Mollenkopf.

Fish kill numbers, wildlife impacts updated for East Palestine

In early February, 38 Norfolk Southern rail cars carrying toxic chemicals derailed, resulting in a chemical burn to prevent a potential explosion and an ominous smoke plume over the village of East Palestine in Columbiana County.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified five materials known to have been released into the air and water from the incident:

  • vinyl chloride.
  • butyl acrylate.
  • ethylhexyl acrylate.
  • ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.
  • Isobutylene.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz provided a Feb. 23 updated estimate on the number of aquatic animals potentially killed from the incident. The final sample count of aquatic species killed in waterways impacted in the area totaled 2,938. Of this collected sample, most — nearly 2,200 — were small minnows.

“It’s important to stress that these small fish are all believed to have been killed immediately after the derailment. Because the chemicals were contained, ODNR has not seen any additional signs of aquatic life suffering in the streams. In fact, we have seen live fish return to Leslie Run,” Mertz said. “ODNR continues to believe that none of the species killed in this event are in the threatened or endangered category. We are awaiting test results of several non-aquatic animals including three birds, and an opossum. We do not believe any of these animals were made sick by the train derailment, but we have submitted those specimens to the Ohio Department of Agriculture and will wait for those test results before making that judgement. We are continuing to monitor and assess the environmental impact during cleanup.”

Based on this sample count, ODNR used a calculation endorsed by the American Fisheries Society to estimate the total number of minnows killed in the entire 5-mile span of waterway from the derailment site to the point where Bull Creek flows into the north fork of Little Beaver Creek. Of the estimate, 38,222 were minnows, ranging in size between 1 and 3 inches.

ODNR also estimated the total number of other aquatic life killed as a result of the derailment, including small fish, crayfish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates. This number is approximately 5,500.

In addition, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) announced the first hearing of the Senate’s Select Committee on Rail Safety to review the Norfolk Southern Derailment in East Palestine on March 1 at 2:30 p.m. in the Senate Finance Hearing Room. If the Senate’s voting session runs past that time, the committee will convene immediately after the chamber adjourns.
Chaired by Senator Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and Vice Chair Michael Rulli (R-Salem), the committee will take testimony and question state agency officials, and experts working on the scene in East Palestine. 
“The derailment devastated the people in my district,” said Senator Rulli. “I’m grateful that my colleagues in the Senate want to find ways to help.”
 There are resources available for those living in East Palestine. Visit for more information.

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