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The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio resulted in the release of hazardous materials that pose short and long-term health concerns. Residents and cleanup crews say they have gotten sick from contaminated air, soil, and water. Many are demanding answers from railroad operator Norfolk Southern and federal transportation officials. Among their concerns is how they’ll be taken care of if chemical poisoning prevents them from working. 

One option is to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. If a medical condition related to the derailment is keeping you out of work, you can apply for disability now. Due to notoriously long SSD approval wait times, the earlier you apply for benefits, the better. 

Health Problems Reported in East Palestine

When a train derailed outside of East Palestine on February 3, it spilled toxic chemicals that prompted an evacuation within a 1-mile radius. In the following days and weeks, cleanup crews and EPA personnel were dispatched to the site. 

At a town meeting, attendees reported feeling sick, despite being told the air and water were safe. Workers cleaning up the wreckage have made similar complaints about ill health. 

Some of the symptoms reported by residents and workers include: 

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Irritation to the eyes, nose, skin, and throat
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are consistent with exposure to chemicals the derailed train was carrying, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and benzene. 

Perhaps more concerning, however, is the potential long-term health impacts of these chemicals. Vinyl chloride, for example, which Norfolk Southern performed a controlled burn of to prevent an explosion, can cause cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and immune disorders when burned. Benzene is linked to blood cancers and other blood problems. 

In addition, a toxicology expert told the New York Times that the chemical makeup of a spill changes over time, leading to uncertain threats. Hundreds of chemicals may have been released in East Palestine, but the EPA only tests for a limited number of environmental contaminants. 

The EPA reported that the air, soil, and water in East Palestine are not contaminated. But an independent analysis of EPA data found nine air pollutants at levels that raise long-term health concerns. 

The researchers admitted that, even if air pollution levels subside, the health impacts of chronic, low-level exposure are unknown. Experts also aren’t sure how all of the chemicals interact with each other and how their combinations could cause lasting health effects. 

SSD and Chemical Exposure

Sickened Norfolk Southern rail workers are asking for paid leave to address lingering symptoms they believe are related to chemical contaminants at the East Palestine derailment. Residents may also be experiencing health issues from chemicals released by the Norfolk Southern freight train. Both could be eligible for SSD if they experience lasting disability. 

SSD benefits are available to those who: 

  • Cannot perform any type of work due to a medical condition;
  • Have a condition that is expected to last for at least 12 months, or result in death; and
  • Meet Social Security work credit guidelines. 

Social Security might pay benefits for chemical exposure-related conditions that include environmental illness and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), or sensitivities to chemicals found in their environment. Some of the symptoms of MCS are remarkably like those experienced by East Palestine residents and rail worker, such as headaches, nausea, skin rashes, and sore throat. 

SSD claims related to environmental illness and MCS are evaluated on an individual case-by-case basis. They require supporting medical documentation to determine if there is sufficient impairment. 

While SSD is only given to claimants who can’t work for at least one year, you don’t have to be disabled for a year to apply for benefits. You can apply as soon as your health prevents you from working. 

Don’t Wait to File for Benefits. Get Help from Graham Law Now. 

Based on medical evidence, Social Security could decide that your medical condition will keep you from working for at least a year and grant benefits immediately. It could also place your claim on hold, and see if your condition improves, before making a benefit determination. 

Regardless, the SSD application process is long. It could take months to get approved for benefits. If your initial application is denied and an appeal is required, the process can take more than a year. 

Joshua Graham assists at all phases of the SSD claims process, including filing an initial claim, appeals, and hearings. In some cases, we can push for an expedited claim decision. To discuss your situation with Josh, email him at or contact us to schedule a free case review. 

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