This is maybe the most commonly-asked question I’ve gotten in the weeks following the February 3 train derailment and chemical spill and burn in East Palestine, Ohio. This is is an area right on the border with Pennsylvania. There are a number of Amish communities in the region. Within the greater overall concern for the residents of the region, a number of people have been wondering specifically about the area’s Amish residents.
So right up front: I don’t have a lot of info to add here. I (mostly) haven’t been in touch with anyone from that area on the spill (just one person, but the comments were off the record). So I cannot share anything on the “Amish attitude” towards this happening, or ways in which they may have altered their behavior as a result.
But, I can at least tell you which Amish communities are near to East Palestine to give a sense of how many Amish might be affected. And throw in my two cents’ worth.
How many Amish live near the spill – and where?
East Palestine is located in Columbiana County. I have been through this area once or twice in the past but am not really familiar with it. I can tell you the county has three Amish communities lying within its borders (all info below via “Amish Population in the United States by State, County, and Settlement, 2022“.
- Rogers – this Amish community lies roughly seven miles from the spill. There are about 175 Amish living here.
- Wellsville – This looks to be the furthest community within the county from the spill, at around 20 miles away. Around 75 Amish call this community home.
- “Unity Valley” – so this one is difficult to find on the map. Sometimes communities are known by nicknames. Nothing comes up in Google Maps by that exact name for this area. However, there is an area named Unity quite nearby, and a Unity Township. So that could very well be the location. If so, this would be the closest Amish community to the spill, just a couple-few miles north of the town. This settlement has about 145 Amish residents.
Additionally, the community at Enon Valley lies just over the border in Pennsylvania, about 5 miles from East Palestine. From what I recall, the Amish live north of the village itself (if someone knows better, feel free to correct me). As you can see on the map below the derailment occurred on the east side of town, nearly over the border into PA.
The Amish of Enon Valley are mentioned in this article on the spill, though only briefly. It is s small community – only one church district and maybe a dozen and a half households (around 90 people). I visited this settlement several years ago and detailed that visit here.
Further north from Enon Valley is the New Wilmington Amish community, at around 25 miles away. Close to 3,000 Amish live there. Beyond that, there are quite a few Amish further north in Mercer County, but further out.
That is pretty much the extent of what I have found within about a 30-mile radius from the spill and burn site.
I mention 30 miles because one of the several class action lawsuits that have been filed against Norfolk Southern Railways seeks payment for medical testing and treatment for people within 30 miles of the spill. So by my tally above, there are five Amish communities and roughly 3,500 Amish residents within that radius.
How has the chemical spill affected Amish?
I think people are showing special concern for area Amish both because of their affinity for and friendships with Amish, and also since the Amish are known as a farming people, and the spill is expected to have significant environmental impact.
Will Amish move away as a result? I do not know. Will they change their behavior in some way? (stop farming?) If I had to guess, I am skeptical that they are doing much differently. The spill got a huge amount of attention and there is a lot of understandable concern over the health and environmental impact. Large numbers of fish have apparently died, and people have complained of health ailments and chemical smells, though it’s apparently unclear whether the chemical release has actually caused sickness among people.
At the same time there are a lot of unknowns as to the long-term effects of the incident. Things which might not play out for years or decades, which are difficult to predict. As one expert described it:
One issue with toxic chemical releases is that the hazards are posed not just by the individual chemicals involved, said Gerald Poje, an expert in environmental health and former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Chemical compounds can interact with one another in complex ways and persist after burning.
“There could be hundreds of different breakdown products that still remain, for which we have often very poor toxicological profiles,” Dr. Poje said. “We’re oftentimes in this unknown place.”
That all sounds bad, or at least scary, in that it’s unknown. However, in the absence of immediately-seen effects, inertia tends to keep people in place. So I wouldn’t expect a big exodus of Amish people from the communities I’ve detailed above.
Like I said at the beginning, I’m not plugged in to the pulse of the local Amish in this region. But I’d be curious about your insights and any additional information you might have – both in general, or from Amish or Amish-adjacent sources.