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Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates over 38,000 fish killed following East Palestine train derailment

'It is important to stress that these small fish that we did find were all believed to be killed immediately after the derailment.'

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) gave an update Thursday on the impact on wildlife following the East Palestine train derailment. 

The update, which came nearly three weeks after the train derailment, was led by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz. 

Following the spill of toxic chemicals, the ODNR initially estimated that 3,500 fish across 12 different species had died. However, that number has been updated to 2,938 aquatic species, including 2,200 minnows.

"That [initial] estimate was based on the visual observation of the species over the two-day period at those survey sights."

The investigation concluded that the aquatic species were killed over a five-mile span between Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.

After receiving that final sample number of dead aquatic species, the ODNR used a calculation to determine that 38,222 minnows were potentially killed as a result of the derailment. In addition, another 5,500 other aquatic species were also possibly killed.  

"It is important to stress that these small fish that we did find were all believed to be killed immediately after the derailment," said Mertz, adding this "immediate" period is believed to be within 24 hours of when the derailment occurred. "We haven't seen any signs of fish in distress since that time. Because the chemicals were contained, we haven't seen any additional signs of aquatic life suffering."

Expanded coverage: Ohio train derailment

The full press conference from the ODNR can be watched below: 

ODNR officials also said they looked at the Ohio River in Jefferson County and saw no signs of dead aquatic life. Mertz also declared that, despite the number of fish killed, "there is no immediate threat to minnows, fish, or other aquatic species."

"[I]n fact, live fish have returned to Leslie Run," the director stated. "None of the species killed are believed to be endangered or threatened."

Credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Minnows return to the water near Quarry Road following the train derailment in East Palestine.

In the future, the ODNR plans to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the killing of wildlife. 

"Under Ohio Law, when there is a take or a kill of wildlife, the ODNR has both civil and criminal remedies," said Mertz. "One of the reasons we do the estimate of total aquatic species killed is to give us a number for restitution. There will be a fulsome restitution number that we will work with Ohio Attorney General." 

As other residents fear terrestrial animal deaths, the ODNR turned over three birds and one possum to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for further testing, which reported back that chemical poisoning did not contribute to their deaths. 

Mertz also noted that as the cleanup in East Palestine continues, the ODNR will be monitoring and assessing the environmental impact during the process for the next 2-3 weeks at least.

The Feb. 3 train derailment led to evacuations of many residents, who now have returned home, but face fears of air and water contamination following a controlled burn of toxic chemicals. 

The NTSB released a preliminary report about the derailment on Thursday, which can be viewed HERE

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