EPA Demands Norfolk Southern Test for Dioxins After Ohio Train Derailment

EPA Demands Norfolk Southern Test for Dioxins After Ohio Train Derailment
Two residents of East Palestine walk towards the East Palestine park as a tanker truck passes East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 24, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 2 ordered freight train operator Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins after the company burned toxic pollutants last month from cargo on its derailed train in East Palestine, Ohio.

The railroad company burned the hazardous materials on Feb. 6 after some of its rail cars were assessed as being on the verge of potentially exploding following the derailment.

Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds known as persistent environmental pollutants, according to the World Health Organization.

The highly toxic substance is found in any environment worldwide owing to common processes like burning wood or coal.

Dioxins accumulate in the food chain and can remain stored in the body’s fat tissue for a half-life of 7 to 11 years owing to their chemical stability. It can cause reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage, hormone interference, and cancer.

In a letter to Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), the EPA said that from its collection of 115 samples of air, soil, surface water, and sediment, analyses of indicator chemicals at the site suggest the probability of dioxin contamination is “low.”

Indicator chemicals such as chlorobenzenes and chlorophenols would suggest the potential for the release of dioxins attributable to the derailment, the agency said.

NTD Photo
A clean-up crew works alongside a stream as clean-up efforts continue in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

‘Out of an Abundance of Caution’

The EPA said it’s mandating the testing because the possible accumulation of dioxins in East Palestine could pose long-term risks.

“To address any continuing concerns for potential release of dioxins in the local area resulting from the derailment, out of an abundance of caution EPA will continue to sample for indicator chemicals and will also require Norfolk Southern to begin sampling directly for dioxins,” the agency wrote in the letter (pdf).

If dioxins are found in the area, the EPA said it will inform the public and determine if it poses “any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment and direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed.”

Because dioxins are common, the EPA has required Norfolk Southern to conduct a background study comparing dioxin levels in East Palestine to other areas unaffected by the train derailment.

The EPA also said it’s reviewing a draft plan by Norfolk Southern to develop a dioxin “fingerprint” for soil sampling using certified laboratories to identify various isomers of dioxins. This fingerprint could help determine if the train derailment and controlled burn impacted the local environment.

“If this dioxin fingerprint can be developed with reliable methodologies, it will help EPA determine whether any dioxin, particularly from the train derailment and controlled burn, impacted the local environment,” the agency wrote.

The EPA advised the senators of its directions to carry out testing for toxic pollutants resulting from the burning of vinyl chloride from its derailed train to Norfolk Southern before a community meeting in East Palestine on Thursday night.

The railroad company previously pulled out of a similar town hall meeting last month, citing safety concerns.

NTD Photo
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich (C-R) speaks to concerned residents as she hosts a town hall at East Palestine High School in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 24, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

Residents Confront Officials at Town Forum

At a town forum in East Palestine on Thursday night, residents confronted representatives of Norfolk Southern, demanding to know whether they would be relocated from their homes.

“It’s not safe here,” one man reportedly declared to representatives of Norfolk Southern. “I’m begging you, by the grace of God, please get our people out of here.”

Darrell Wilson, the railroad’s assistant vice president of government relations, said that while the company is ready to move more contaminated soil from underneath the tracks, buying homes and relocating people out of East Palestine hasn’t been discussed.

“Why?” someone shouted.

Some residents reported that they still suffer from illnesses nearly a month after the “controlled release” of toxic chemicals.

The EPA’s assurances about the quality of the air and water were reportedly met with skepticism.

Debra Shore, an EPA regional administrator, faced opposition from some residents who booed, laughed, and shouted, “Don’t lie to us,” after she reaffirmed that air tests have consistently shown that the air in the village is safe.

The long-term health impacts and the safety of their children remain a concern for residents, who said they fear undetected dioxins will cause long-term damage.

NTD Photo
Clean up continues in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern Railroad train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 14, 2023. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)

Removing Contaminated Soil

Wilson, the railroad’s assistant vice president of government relations, reportedly told residents Thursday night that Norfolk Southern feels horrible about what happened.

He said that more than two million gallons (7.6 million liters) of water and liquid waste have so far been removed along with 1,400 tons (1,270 metric tonnes) of solid waste.

There were reportedly many complaints that the railroad opened the tracks less than a week after the derailment and didn’t remove the soil underneath.

Wilson said Norfolk Southern plans to dig up the areas and should be able to remove all the contaminated soil by the end of April if it can start right away. Jeers and angry shouts met his comment.

“You should have done it right the first time,” someone yelled.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an overheating bearing is believed to have caused the derailment of the train carrying 38 cars, including 11 containing hazardous materials. The crew did not have sufficient time to stop the train despite a trackside sensor detecting the overheating bearing just before the derailment.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has expressed his commitment to ensuring that Norfolk Southern cleans up the disaster while helping the town recover.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, who reportedly did not attend the town forum on Thursday night, has also agreed to testify in Congress next week at a hearing on the derailment.

The Epoch Times contacted Norfolk Southern for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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