Support remains as Pennsylvania closes train derailment health center

As the Pennsylvania Department of Health winds down its health center near the East Palestine train derailment, officials continue to collect health data and vow to establish telehealth options.

The Health Resource Center, opened Feb. 28 at the Darlington Township Building near the Ohio border, served more than 550 residents until officials wound down operations March 16. Officials from the Departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Agriculture staffed the center along with doctors and local pastors.

The closure does not mean a disconnection, however.

“We’re not going to walk away,” said Jeff Backer, director of the Department of Health’s Division of Planning and Operations. He noted officials are setting up a virtual option for residents who still have health concerns.

Many locals who come into the center aren’t primarily concerned about their physical health. Instead, the center has served as a place to talk with state officials and assuage anxiety about the environmental effects of the train derailment.

“When you think about it, their security is being taken away,” Dr. Arlene Seid said. Residents mentioned headaches and eye and skin irritation, but anxiety was a common problem. “They come here to get information.”

It’s also been a way for officials to gather information. They’ve passed out two Assessment of Chemical Exposures surveys, one for the general public and one for first responders, to understand the health effects of the train derailment in the area. Almost 170 surveys have been completed, answering questions about health symptoms, possible contact with chemical substances, drink water sources, and information about pets, crops, and livestock.

A Department of Health official did not have details of when or in what form the results of the survey would be published.

“The Shapiro administration remains unwavering in its commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of residents, and will continue working to protect their health and safety for as long as it takes,” Department of Health Press Secretary Mark O’Neill said.

In announcing the center’s opening, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office called it part of a “whole-of-government response.” Concerned residents can find more information and resources through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Train Derailment Dashboard.

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