EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – The East Palestine community continues to recover and still has a lot of questions and concerns about their health as they return back to their homes and normal lives following the train derailment.

Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was joined by Cabinet officials to try to answer some of those questions about the Feb. 3 train derailment. The press conference included experts in health, the environment, agriculture and natural resources. Before it was over, the governor said, “We’re not leaving.”

Early in the news conference, DeWine described a conversation he had earlier in the day with Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.

“I asked him directly if he would personally guarantee, if he would personally guarantee that the railroad would stay there until absolutely everything there was cleaned up. He gave me his word and his commitment that the railroad would do that. They would not leave until that was done,” DeWine said.

DeWine said he learned from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that the train was not considered a high hazardous material train because many of the cars did not contain hazardous materials. That means the railroad was not required to notify residents about what was in the railcars coming through.

DeWine remarked that this classification of the train was “absurd” and called on Congress to look into this in the future.

A Norfolk Southern train carrying chemicals derailed on the east end of East Palestine earlier this month near the Pennsylvania border. The fire that ensued stretched from one-quarter to one-half mile along the tracks. The glow of the fire could be seen 10 miles away.

DeWine acknowledged some serious environmental concerns, however, and that the environmental teams remain in East Palestine to make sure the site is cleaned.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, water and air quality tests are still happening.

“The spill did flow to the Ohio River during that initial slug. The Ohio River is very large, and it’s a body of water able to dilute the pollutants pretty quickly,” said Tiffani Kavalec, of the Ohio EPA.

After the derailment and chemical release, WKBN received reports from some people in the surrounding area about dead fish and other animals that were having health issues.

Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, addressed these health concerns at the conference, saying that the department has observed approximately 3,500 dead fish of 12 different species, though none are considered threatened or endangered following the chemicals spilling into local waterways.

As far as the water quality in the creeks being tested, low levels of two chemicals have been found in Leslie Run, though they’re non-detectable in Little Beaver Creek. The same cannot be said about Sulfur Run in East Palestine.

“Sulfur Run remains contaminated but we’re confident that it is contained,” Kavalec said.

Mertz also said there does not appear to be any evidence of non-aquatic wildlife affected. However, those with concerns about their livestock or pets are encouraged to contact their personal vet.

The ODNR said it will continue to provide air and water testing to determine that levels are within safe ranges.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said the traces of pollutants in the air are compounds encountered in everyday life, meaning they pose little threat to individuals’ health.

However, Vanderhoff suggested that until those using private water wells near East Palestine are able to get their water tested for free, they should continue to use bottled water, particularly if pregnant, breastfeeding or preparing formula for an infant.

“From the very start of this, we have taken every step possible to ensure that people’s safety was first and foremost,” he said. “Multiple agencies, including the state and national government, are very serious about this.”

As of Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency has helped with the screening of almost 400 homes through its voluntary program, with no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride.

In the conference, DeWine said both he and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro discussed with representatives of the railroad to decide the best course of action following the initial derailment and subsequent controlled release. The Ohio National Guard provided models of how the controlled release would impact surrounding areas, along with the U.S. Department of Defense.

According to DeWine, there was a high probability that allowing the train cars to continue burning would lead to an explosion that carried the potential of launching shrapnel up to a mile away from the derailment site.

DeWine said President Joe Biden has stated that the federal government will be supplying the area with anything it needs regarding those impacted by the derailment.

DeWine also said executives with Norfolk Southern have assured him that they will continue working with the governor and other departments until everything is resolved.

“Norfolk Southern is responsible for this. The impact on this community is huge — not just the physical impact, but the inconvenience, the terror,” DeWine said. “My objective is to do everything we can to get this cleaned up as quickly as we can.”

To request air monitoring at your home, contact 330-849-3919.

For the U.S. EPA hotline, call 215-814-2400.

The Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center can be reached at 800-230-7049.