A senior researcher at Texas A&M University expressed concern that the EPA and other government agencies are neglecting to provide full information about the risks posed to residents of East Palestine, Ohio, in the wake of the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical fallout.
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.
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. They were especially concerned with above-normal levels of acrolein, a substance with a pungent odor that is highly toxic when inhaled, and warned of health concerns if above-normal levels of benzene, naphthalene, and vinyl chloride persist in the area.
The findings came after the EPA said that air and water quality tests have not produced cause for concern, while state-level authorities in both Ohio and Pennsylvania reached similar conclusions.
Ivan Rusyn, the director of the Texas A&M Superfund Research Center and the chair of the Texas A&M Interdisciplinary Faculty of Toxicology, told The Daily Wire that the officials “did not provide the full context into which the actual data collected by them could be placed.” He said that researchers from the two universities translated “the raw data posted by the agencies online” to determine the effects of continual inhalation and found that some of the chemicals would pose dangers if they persist for months or years.
According to the Washington Post, the EPA said that air quality levels of 79 monitored chemicals are below levels of concern for short-term exposure and that those concentrations will likely dissipate. Rusyn commented to The Daily Wire that the agency has not defined the meaning of “short-term exposure” or provided necessary context for a meaningful risk assessment.
“That is one of the challenges local residents face: lack of context when a government official comes near a microphone and declares ‘safety.’ There is not a disparity in conclusions, the disparity is in how the information is communicated and explained,” Rusyn continued. “We hope our colleagues from the government agencies will put proper context and communicate the likelihood of risk, rather than declare ‘safety.’”
Residents of East Palestine have voiced frustration over the lack of transparency from government officials and executives from Norfolk Southern, the rail company at the center of the incident. 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 facing chronic sore throats and respiratory complications.
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The Daily Wire asked Rusyn whether the EPA and other agencies are testing for all of the chemicals aboard the train or merely for vinyl chloride. He noted that the interactions between the known chemicals on the train, the elements in the environment, and the controlled burn present difficulties in determining which substances may still be present in East Palestine.
“The types of compounds that the EPA released the data on are a very sensible list of agents to evaluate,” he remarked. “But if one asks if it is an all-inclusive list, the answer is no, but not because the agencies don’t want to evaluate them, but because the analytical methods that were at their disposal have limited utility and sensitivity.”