People living near the chemical disaster are wary of contamination, and even across the state line Pennsylvanians are worried.
As a dense cloud of toxic smoke descended across Darlington in western Pennsylvania, Patrick Dittman knew that the catastrophic train derailment across the state line in East Palestine could also pose a danger to his family.
The 30-year-old bartender lives and works just a few miles from East Palestine, Ohio, where the Norfolk Southern’s 1.7-mile-long freight train carrying a hotchpotch of dangerous chemicals partly derailed and caught fire on 3 February.
Three days later a billowing smoke plume and the stench of burning plastic blew east into Pennsylvania after crews conducted a controlled burn of the vinyl chloride onboard the derailed train to nullify the risk of a potentially deadly explosion.
The toxic cloud engulfed Darlington Township, a small rural community with 1,800 residents, coating lawns, crops and cars in black soot.
“We wanted to get away even though we live outside the evacuation radius, but had nowhere to go. Over this way we’ve not been told anything about the implications – it’s very concerning,” said Dittman.
Regulators overseeing the clean-up in East Palestine have pledged to make the multibillion-dollar railroad company foot the bill, but neighbouring communities feel forgotten.
Norfolk Southern, which reported $3bn in profits last year, has committed $11.8m to East Palestine and said it will review individual requests from those outside the town’s zip code.
“No one really cares about this side of the state line. We’re not as affected as East Palestine, but we are affected,” said Max Knechtel, 26, a patron at the Greersburgh Tavern watching news coverage of the political fallout from the train disaster which brought Donald Trump and the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, to East Palestine last week.
“My house is 50ft from the rail tracks, my kids play outside, my dog has gotten sick. If we don’t get tests now, down the line when we start getting health problems, the company will try to blame it on everything else but the train,” added Knechtel.