The Environmental Protection Agency told lawmakers on Thursday that Norfolk Southern, the company at the center of the train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio, must test the environment for certain dangerous substances.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of black smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) previously sent a letter to the EPA requesting that officials monitor for dioxins, a group of pollutants that can be created by vinyl chloride combustion and can take decades to decompose. The EPA and the Ohio EPA said in another letter that they have directed Norfolk Southern to sample for the compounds.
“To address related questions, EPA will require Norfolk Southern to conduct a background study to compare any dioxin levels around East Palestine to dioxin levels in other areas not impacted by the train derailment,” the letter said. “EPA is also currently reviewing a draft plan by Norfolk Southern to develop a dioxin ‘fingerprint’ for soil sampling.”
Dioxins, which are invisible to the human eye, can attach to soil and dust particles and last in a given environment for decades. The substances have been known to enter drinking water supplies through waste incineration or discharges from chemical factories; they are “highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones,” according to a fact sheet from the EPA.
The EPA recently ordered Norfolk Southern to manage the cleanup of the chemical fallout, prompting concerns about conflicts of interest and insufficient efforts to ensure the long-term safety of the community. The agency also threatened to “immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” if the company fails to adequately complete enumerated cleanup actions.
The announcement regarding dioxin testing from the EPA comes after residents of East Palestine have voiced frustration over the lack of transparency from government officials and executives from Norfolk Southern. They are also skeptical of the clean bill of health that environmental authorities granted the Rust Belt community’s air and water supplies since many residents are now reporting chronic sore throats and respiratory complications.
Analysts from the Texas A&M Superfund Research Center and the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University announced last week that nine of the 50 chemicals the EPA said were present on the derailed train have higher concentrations than normal in East Palestine. Texas A&M Superfund Research Center Director Ivan Rusyn told The Daily Wire on Wednesday that environmental officials have not provided “the full context into which the actual data collected by them could be placed,” especially with respect to the long-term health risks posed by exposure to some of the chemicals.
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A team of journalists and producers from The Daily Wire who visited East Palestine two weeks ago reported a lingering smell in the air, an oily chemical sheen in local creeks and rivers, and symptoms such as sore throats and headaches garnered merely by spending an extended period of time in the community. Residents of East Palestine told the team that their livelihoods are threatened as customers start to avoid their businesses and family farms.