Ohio Governor Responds to Farmers’ Concerns About Soil After Toxic Train Derailment

Ohio Governor Responds to Farmers’ Concerns About Soil After Toxic Train Derailment
Three crosses stand on a hillside overlooking a farm on the state line of Ohio and Pennsylvania following a train derailment prompting health concerns in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 17, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine responded Friday to ongoing concerns expressed by local farmers in and around East Palestine about their soil, crops, and livestock, following the train derailment on Feb. 3 and subsequent spill of toxic chemicals into the air, ground, and water.

DeWine, after being presented with farmers’ concerns, told CBS affiliate WHIO: “There’s going to be soil testing. Anybody want soil testing, that’s going to be provided. So it’s very important, the testing of the water continues, the testing of air continues.”

He added if farmers have observed anything different, such as changes in the growth of their livestock, the state government’s agricultural department “can become involved” and his administration “can get the state veterinary involved in that.”

“The soil at the farm: Can we plant? Can we not plant? Will anybody buy it, if we do plant?” asked Eloise Harmon, of East Palestine, who owns part of a farm, the outlet reported.

When she and others expressed concerns about planting in the spring to DeWine, he said the state government can bring in agricultural experts to “hear that concern.”

“It’s an understandable concern. I’m not the expert. We’re going to bring in the experts. We’ll put them together with the farmers,” he told the WHIO, adding that the experts would come from various universities in the state.

Concerns of ‘Highly Toxic’ Dioxins

Public concern over the contamination of soil, water, and air has persisted since a train derailed on Feb. 3 around 9 p.m. in East Palestine, Ohio. No fatalities were reported after the crash. The Norfolk Southern train was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania.

According to a preliminary report (pdf) issued on Feb. 23 by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the train had 38 of its 151 cars derailed. Of the derailed cars, 11 contained hazardous materials that subsequently sparked a fire that damaged 12 non-derailed cars. Responders mitigated that fire on Feb. 5.

The train was carrying 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride in five of the 11 cars. The substance is a known carcinogen and is highly flammable. It is used to make PVC pipes and other products. The National Cancer Institute notes that it has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver.

Train Derailment Ohio
A black plume rises as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 6, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Crews burned the chemicals in a controlled release on Feb. 6, over fears the vinyl chloride would explode. According to the preliminary NTSB report, the temperature inside one of the five tank cars carrying vinyl chloride “was still rising,” which concerned authorities.

“This increase in temperature suggested that the vinyl chloride was undergoing a polymerization reaction, which could pose an explosion hazard,” the report reads. “Responders scheduled a controlled venting of the five vinyl chloride tank cars to release and burn the vinyl chloride … and dug ditches to contain released vinyl chloride liquid while it vaporized and burned. The controlled venting began about 4:40 p.m. on February 6 and continued for several hours.”

The move created a plume of dark smoke of various toxic materials that spread over the town. Residents who were evacuated from East Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the derailment were then told they could return on Feb. 8.

On Feb. 10, the Environmental Protection Agency told Norfolk Southern that at least four other potentially hazardous chemicals were found in the air, soil, or water surrounding the site of the train wreck. The chemicals were ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene, and butyl acrylate.

Murray McBride, a soil and crop scientist at Cornell University, said that vinyl chloride would have broken down and dissipated in the air over a day or two, but may persist in soil and water. In an article published on Feb. 15, he advised farmers and residents near the crash to test their soil and water.

Following a train derailment, petroleum based chemicals float on the top of the water in Leslie Run creek after being agitated from the sediment on the bottom of the creek in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 20, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

“Vinyl chloride is highly mobile in soils and water and can persist for years in groundwater,” McBride said.

“It is advisable that farmers and other residents in this area test their wells over the next few months at least for the presence of the spilled chemicals including vinyl chloride, in order to protect the health of humans and livestock.

“Because the combustion of vinyl chloride that resulted from the accident may have created highly toxic dioxins, surface soils downwind of the spill site should be tested for dioxin levels particularly where food crops are to be grown.”

Federal and state officials have repeatedly asserted it’s safe for evacuated residents to return to the area and that air testing in the town and inside hundreds of homes hasn’t detected any concerning levels of contaminants. The state said the local municipal drinking water system is safe, and bottled water is available for those with private wells.

But people have expressed ongoing concerns and questions over the health and environmental fallout. Locals have reported a spate of health issues, including unusual illnesses, and some said their animals have died. There have been thousands of animal deaths in the area, including fish, chickens, foxes, and cats.

NTD Photo
A fish lays dead following a train derailment prompting health concerns in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 20, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

EPA Orders Norfolk Southern to Test for Dioxins

The EPA on March 2 ordered (pdf) Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins, which refers to a group of chemically-related compounds that are highly toxic.

The World Health Organization calls dioxins environmental pollutants that “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are created unwittingly, mainly as by-products of industrial processes, but can also result from natural processes like volcanic eruptions and forest fires, the WHO stated.

“Dioxins are unwanted by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp, and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators (solid waste and hospital waste) are often the worst culprits, due to incomplete burning.”

The EPA told Norfolk Southern to begin sampling directly for dioxins. “If dioxins are found in the area including East Palestine, EPA will share the information with the public, determine whether the level of contaminants found poses any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment and direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed,” the agency stated.

Ron Fodo, Ohio EPA Emergency Response, looks for signs of fish and also agitates the water in Leslie Run creek to check for chemicals that have settled at the bottom following a train derailment that is causing environmental concerns in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 20, 2023. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

Because dioxins are common, the EPA ordered 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.

The EPA told Norfolk Southern that it has been sampling for “indicator chemicals” to see whether the train derailment is responsible for the dioxins being detected in the area. Indicator chemicals include chlorobenzenes and chlorophenols; the EPA said it is currently doing an analysis for 19 of these compounds in the area of East Palestine. It said that so far, results suggest “a low probability for release of dioxin from this incident.”

Caden Pearson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times