Skip Navigation


Export to Word (
Principal Investigator: Schumacher, Fredrick Ray
Institute Receiving Award Case Western Reserve University
Location Cleveland, OH
Grant Number R21ES036031
Funding Organization National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Award Funding Period 08 Feb 2024 to 31 Jan 2026
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): PROJECT SUMMARY/ABSTRACT On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, derailed in the village of East Palestine, Ohio. Nearly half of the local 4,800 residents were evacuated within hours. A subsequent controlled combustion of five tankers was undertaken, resulting in the release of phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the atmosphere. While initial air sampling did not show evidence of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride concentrations above air quality standards, testing is ongoing. Contaminated run off was detected in two surface water streams. This has had significant ecologic impact — more than 40,000 fish deaths were identified within a 5 mile radius of the site in the days following the derailment. The subacute and long-term health impacts of this environmental and public health disaster remain unknown. For residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities, concern about the long term environmental and health impacts of these exposures remains high. Due to the multi-pollutant nature of this chemical exposure, and the potential for pre-existing exposures due to clustering of heavy industry within the area surrounding East Palestine, a quantitative approach based on biospecimens is crucial to guide subsequent disease surveillance. While chemical exposure assessment is typically done via interrogation of biospecimens in blood and urine for specific contaminants, this approach only provides a snapshot of short-term chemical exposure. The somatic mutation rate (SMR), however, provides a global overview of chemical exposures, as demonstrated by previous research, and serves as a proxy for environmental chemical exposures. Here, we propose utilizing SMR to establish a baseline for acute chemical exposure and long-term monitoring with respect to health and disease risks. Our time-sensitive response, as proposed here, “Healthy Futures Research Study: Linking somatic mutation rate with baseline exposure in East Palestine”, establishes the baseline impact of a subacute chemical exposure utilizing a genomic biomarker as a surrogate measure for direct chemical concentration levels given the mixture of potential contaminants. Our research proposal will i) develop and engage participatory research in East Palestine and the greater region; ii) utilize a cross-sectional study to assess the correlation between the SMR, a genomic biomarker, with geographical proximity to the train derailment epicenter; and iii) elucidate perceived experiences post-disaster with qualitative approaches. This proposal will establish and develop a shared partnership with community residents, formally organizing a Community Advisory Board among community members, and providing a baseline biomarker for chemical exposure thus serving as a baseline for longitudinal studies. Our responsive team is comprised of epidemiologists, community outreach researchers, and healthcare advocates. Overall, this proposal establishes a cornerstone working with the community, health departments, and other research institutions across the region to fully comprehend the short- and long-term health impacts in the East Palestine community.
Science Code(s)/Area of Science(s) Primary: 93 - Environmental Justice/Environmental Health Disparities
Secondary: 03 - Carcinogenesis/Cell Transformation
Publications No publications associated with this grant
Program Officer Liam O'Fallon
to Top