Second Place Writing – Personality/Profile Writing

Nick Stonesifer

Second Place
Pennsylvania State University
$2,000 Scholarship

Safekeeper & Creek Guy

By Nick Stonesifer

Christina Siceloff and her boyfriend Randy Dehaven document the creeks of East Palestine. She is Safekeeper115 on TikTok. He is Merica2.0 Media on YouTube.

Before any trip into the creeks, Christina is filled with reproach. “Here we go again,” she tells herself, taking that first, chilly step into the water. Armed with a stick, rainbow polka dot boots and an industrial-grade respirator, Christina, 38, uses the stick to disturb the creek’s floor. She pushes against the soil and overturns rocks.

Christina is determined to prove that the waterways of East Palestine remain contaminated, long after the Norfolk Southern train derailment of February 2023.

With little effort, a rainbow sheen emerges and takes over the waterway. The once clear, undisturbed creek becomes metallic like Damascus steel. At the right angle, it reveals shades of blue, purple, green, and orange. This is the visual beauty Christina and Randy need people to see.

Christina started posting videos of the creeks in April, two months after the derailment.

It was her third TikTok video under the handle Safekeeper115. The first two were early responses to the train derailment. The rest — more than 50 videos — chronicle the waterways of East Palestine.


On the night of the East Palestine train derailment, Christina put her son, Edward, to bed and went to Facebook to scroll — she’s too far in the woods for cable television.

She saw posts about a fire scene in town and thought it involved the gas stations in East Palestine. She told her father, also Edward, and the two of them went outside, not expecting to see anything.

Christina walked out her front door and looked into the sky. What she saw looked like the whole town was on fire.

“We’re standing here, watching everybody die,” Christina thought.

Christina stayed awake until 4 a.m., constantly checking Facebook for updates. Not too long after midnight, she heard the firemen had been evacuated from the site. A former firefighter, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I’ve never been pulled from a scene,” Christina said. “And I’ve been to some pretty big fires.”

At the site of the derailment, chemical tankers holding vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate and other toxic chemicals sat for days- soaking in the soil. On Feb. 6, a decision was made to burn the chemicals in the derailed tankers in a process referred to as “vent and burn.” It would happen that day.

Christina was getting ready to take Edward to school. That was until she got notice her son’s school district was being evacuated.

She drove to nearby Chippewa to get birdseed for her animals at home in case she was put on a stay-at-home order. On the drive she saw unmarked police vehicles “flying and down the roads.”

Then came the evacuation maps.

Christina couldn’t tell if her home was inside or outside the evacuation radius, so she returned home “in a panic.” She rushed around the house packing bags and thought through where she could go. She called friends and family, looking for help or a place to be safe.

“There was nowhere to go,” she said.

The three of them stayed home.

That afternoon, the vinyl chloride at the site of the derailment was burned. The result: a dark plume of smoke that lifted over East Palestine and made its way east, over the border into western Pennsylvania and then south. It was so dense, meteorologists picked it up on radars.

Christina went outside just after sunset and wasn’t able to see the moon or the stars. Around midnight, the skies cleared.

That night, she had watery eyes, a “burning” throat and a cough.

“I couldn’t talk for like a week,” Christina said.

When the EPA and Norfolk Southern began cleaning up contaminated soil near the tracks, Christina said, her whole house had diarrhea and were vomiting.

She took Covid tests and had multiple doctor’s visits; months later, she was diagnosed with chemical exposure.

Christina first heard that the fish were dying. Skeptical, she wanted to see for herself. It was 11 days after the train derailment in East Palestine. Her son and father accompanied her down to Sulphur and Leslie Runs. They could all tell something was wrong.

“Even the rocks didn’t look right,” Christina said. “They had black all over them.”

And then there were the fish—“dead everywhere.”

What Christina saw was evidence of the 38,000 minnows killed as a result of the derailment, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. They estimated an additional 5,500 “small fish, crayfish, amphibians and macroinvertebrates” died.

As residents throughout the region started to see changes in their local waterways and creeks, they took to social media. Videos and images, posted across platforms, documented the experience in real time. But Christina and Randy have not stopped.


The night of the derailment, Randy filmed the flames in town until the early morning hours.

He posted it on YouTube the following night.

“I’ve never seen nothing like that in my life,” said Randy.

Randy, 43, was crossing a bridge over Leslie Run near his house when his bodyweight caused a disturbance in the sediment and water, releasing a pool of rainbow sheen.

It was almost “breathtaking,” he said, but it was also sobering. Those colors.

In town, he’s known as “creek guy.” He now spends four and five days a week out in the creeks, where he makes videos for his YouTube channel.

Randy wades the water with boots up to his knees, a full-face respirator and a shovel — a far cry from Christina’s stick.

While Christina is consistent, returning to the same creeks and the same spaces, continuing to document their conditions, Randy’s documentation — when he is on his own — is marked by variety, shifting toward any evidence of the derailment’s impact.

In August, when the bridge in East Palestine Park came down, crashing into the creek below, Randy went to Leslie Run to film. He found a fish kill. Local reports claimed the kill was simply due to the bridge coming down and a statement from the Ohio EPA said it was “unlikely” to be connected to the “derailment of cleanup activities.”

Randy and Christina who’ve been regularly disturbing the surface to expose the chemicals beneath see the bridge falling as the ultimate disruption to soil.

Jack Vanden Heuvel, a Penn State professor of molecular toxicology, said the sheen that Christina and Randy are seeing is produced by chemicals that aren’t 100% water soluble.

He compared the relationship to oil and water. Since the chemicals are less dense than water, they float to the surface and are limited in their movement.

The chemicals can also bind to different organic materials and get trapped onto sediments, Vanden Heuvel said.


To trounce East Palestine’s waterways, Christina won’t spend much time near the water without her respirator. Without her mask, she said, her legs begin to tremble, and her lips and tongue go numb.

Symptoms after visiting the creeks have become a fixture of Christina’s experience — something she just expects by now.

“You know you’re probably gonna feel sick afterwards, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Sometimes Christina finds herself laughing—just standing in Sulphur or Leslie Run and laughing. Not because what she sees is funny but because, she says, it’s just too “disturbing.”

Sulphur Run enters East Palestine from the Pennsylvania side of town. It travels along the northern side of the railroad tracks for just under a mile, and then dips south, under the tracks. It continues parallel, along Taggart Street, until it makes its way south again, through and around homes in the center of town. It passes through East Palestine Park and meets Leslie Run just south of the business district. From there, it is 17 miles to the Ohio River, one of the most — if not the most — polluted rivers in America.

Sulphur Run happens to be at ground zero of the train derailment and the entry point of chemicals into East Palestine’s waterways.

The Ohio EPA, in its own words, described Sulphur Run as “grossly contaminated.” It is also one of East Palestine’s easiest waterways to access.

Leslie Run is approximately 1.5 miles west of the derailment site, but an entry to Sulphur Run is a stone’s throw from the spill.

Many sections of Sulphur Run are accessible by just stepping off the sidewalk, and three sections — or culverts — run underground through town. Many of these run under homes and one stretch runs as long as 800 feet.

According to work plans from Arcadis, an outside consulting firm hired by Norfolk Southern to manage cleanup, efforts in the culverts were “performed remotely without having personnel physically enter the confined space structures.”

Sulphur Run is also where some of the city’s storm water drains and sewage used to drain, with entry points in tunnels underneath the town.


On the corner of East Rebecca Street and North Sumner Street sits the home of Krissy Ferguson. Sulphur Run travels immediately beneath her house.

In a video shared with the News Lab, Ferguson’s basement could be seen flooding with water that was pushing upward from Sulphur Run.

Ferguson said her house was built in the 1930s when sewage used to flow directly into Sulphur Run. But when the city installed sewer lines, they never capped off the creek’s entry into her home.

Three days after the derailment, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s surface water testing of Sulphur Run at a location just next to Krissy’s home showed levels of butyl acrylate at 180 ppm.

The CDC’s “immediately dangerous to life or health” threshold is 113 ppm.

OSHA’s 8-hour workday exposure limit is 10 ppm. According to the EPA’s testing, the levels in Sulphur Run didn’t drop below that level until Feb. 9.

Since the derailment, Krissy said, her basement has flooded on multiple occasions. Sometimes it’s been just a few inches.

At least once, she says, it was nearing the top of the basement stairs.

Ferguson says her sandstone foundation has absorbed the chemicals from the flood water.

When the chemicals are near the foundation of someone’s home, said Vanden Heuvel, there’s a chance of “outgassing.” Outgassing is the release of vapors from materials, waterways or a place it may have been trapped. If it were to flood a home, Vanden Heuvel said, it could bind to sediments or dirt in the basement and outgas that way, too.

“So, if it’s going under your house,” as we see with Krissy’s home, said Vanden Heuvel, “there’s a chance that it is able to come in, and you can actually smell some of these vapors.”

Christina said her father doesn’t want her going to the creeks and exposing herself to the chemicals, if “nothing’s gonna change.”

“If you don’t keep coming, then it just goes away,” Christina said.

To Christina, her trips into the creeks are the last lifeline she has to reach people.

To date, Safekeeper115 has 726 followers. Merica2.0 Media has 2,310 subscribers.

The visuals she captures may just be the only reminder people have “that there’s something still going on” in East Palestine.

“I sort of, at this point, feel like we’re just gonna be left here to die.”


This article, in its original form, can be found here: View Story