On Feb. 3, 38 cars of a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, and ignited a smoky fire that necessitated the evacuation of the town’s nearly 5,000 people. Since that day, residents of the small community and neighboring municipalities have worried about the short- and long-term effects of the release of toxins on their health and the environment, including the soil, waterways and drinking water.

Three experts – including two from PennWest California –will examine the environmental impacts of the disaster at 11 a.m. April 13 during “Ask the Expert: Environmental Disasters.” The program will feature Dr. David Argent, professor of wildlife and fisheries biology at PennWest; Rick Spear, aquatic biologist supervisor for the Department of Environmental Protection; and Dr. Michael Slaven, environmental historian at PennWest. They will discuss what the disaster means for the environment, specifically the people, plants and animals near the crash site, and highlight some of the biological monitors used to assess the threat to the region.

“We will provide a timeline of activities and summarize what has happened to date,” Argent said. “(Spear) will summarize his agency’s response to the situation, the potential impact to Pennsylvania waters, and what, if any, regulatory violations may have occurred.”

The community is welcome to attend in person at Frich Hall 202 on the PennWest California campus or virtually at https://pennwest-edu.zoom.us/j/95002482362. The program is sponsored by PennWest’s American Democracy Project, a multi-campus initiative focused on higher education's role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.