Case Western Reserve receives NIH funding to study long-term health effects of East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment

Welcome sign in East Palestine, Ohio

Possible exposure to toxic chemicals may increase risks for cancers

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded researchers at Case Western Reserve University a grant to begin studying the possible long-term health effects of exposure to hazardous chemicals from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment.

On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railroad freight train with 150 cars derailed and fire erupted. Eleven cars were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate. Soon after, residents reported experiencing nosebleeds, rashes, throat and eye irritation, vomiting and difficulty breathing. 

Frederick Schumacher

“As a cancer center, our goal is to reduce the likelihood that people will develop cancer and suffer from its consequences,” said Fredrick Schumacher, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “We knew there would be long-term health impacts, so when this happened, we set up a team to see how we could help.” 

The $280,000 CWRU grant was one of six the NIH awarded to research universities to study the long- and short-term health effects of the derailment.

With initial funding from the university, Schumacher began the team’s East Palestine work—called the Healthy Futures Research Study—with the affiliated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative of Northern Ohio (CTSC). CTSC is a collaborative among Case Western Reserve and its affiliated hospital systems, Cleveland ClinicMetroHealthUniversity Hospitals and the Louis Stokes Veterans Administration Medical Center

There is a continuing effort to complement this work with a broader study to include both longitudinal and comparative data information to help understand the impact and manage the long-term effects. 

Maeve MacMurdo

“Understanding the possible long-term health impacts of the train derailment in East Palestine is an important first step in giving residents the information they need about the link between exposure and health outcomes,” said Maeve MacMurdo, Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist and the study’s co-investigator. “I’m excited to partner on this work with Dr. Schumacher and the Case Western Reserve University team.”

Researchers have recruited about 200 residents for the study so far, collecting blood samples, saliva, nails and hair for signs of DNA damage beyond what might be expected during someone’s lifetime.

“We are looking for novel approaches to change the paradigm and identify diseases like cancer early on,” Schumacher said. “We will be able to expand our research and show the people of East Palestine that we are here to help, thanks to this additional funding.”

For more information, please contact Patty Zamora at