TikToker promotes citizen science efforts in Ohio train derailment
PITTSBURGH — After being catapulted into the viral metaverse of TikTok, what began as a “slapdash initial document” transformed into a multipronged database encouraging citizen science in East Palestine, Ohio.
Buffalo, N.Y.-based Devon Oship, 27, has been utilizing the social platform for years to teach viewers about neuroscience, using her master’s degree and passion for science education.
Then the train derailment in East Palestine happened.
When viewers living in and near East Palestine began reaching out via TikTok, expressing fear and concern over the derailment, she decided to put together a few resources for residents to conduct their own testing. Her repository, housed on Linktree, quickly grew to include an interactive map in addition to an app for uploading water, soil and air test results.
“This project is really about bringing people together and empowering the community to know they’re being told the truth,” Oship said.
Multiple testing and monitoring efforts are ongoing in East Palestine and the surrounding region, with air, soil, and surface and drinking water testing by groups including the Ohio EPA, the Columbiana Health Department and Arcadis, a third-party representing Norfolk Southern Railway. Citizens conducting their own tests can see whether readings match up with what government agencies are reporting, which is included for reference in the database.
To ensure testing is done correctly, Oship offers instructions on how to conduct water and soil testing, what tests can be done at home and which should be sent to an accredited lab, links to where residents can buy certified testing equipment, spreadsheets to input data and tutorials on how to do so, and more.
Once her efforts to develop the database gained traction online, experts including biostatisticians, environmental scientists and IT workers began reaching out to offer help.
“This plethora of people came together and said, ‘We want to make this a real resource,’” Oship said. “It’s been really amazing to see the scientific community come together. I think a lot of people wanted to do something to help but didn’t know what.”
The database now includes an interactive heat map that displays where testing has been done in the region and is updated in real time, with more sophisticated analyses being conducted as soon as the scientists can do so. The group of eight scientists who helped build it out hope to make the database an international resource that can be used by anyone at any time. Oship said more scientists are applying to join the team every day.