Federal environmental authorities have ordered a temporary halt in the shipment of contaminated waste from the site of a fiery train derailment earlier this month in eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line.
Region 5 administrator Debra Shore of the Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday the agency ordered Norfolk Southern to ‘pause’ shipments from the site of the February 3 derailment in East Palestine but vowed that removal of the material would resume ‘very soon.’
‘Everyone wants this contamination gone from the community. They don’t want the worry, and they don’t want the smell, and we owe it to the people of East Palestine to move it out of the community as quickly as possible,’ Shore said.
Until Friday, Shore said, the rail company had been solely responsible for the disposal of the waste and supplied Ohio environmental officials with a list of selected and utilized disposal sites.
Federal environmental authorities have ordered a halt in the shipment of contaminated waste from the site of a fiery train derailment in eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line
Region 5 administrator Debra Shore of the Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday the agency ordered Norfolk Southern to ‘pause’ shipments from the site of the February 3 derailment in East Palestine but vowed that removal of the material would resume ‘very soon’
Going forward, disposal plans including locations and transportation routes for contaminated waste will be subject to EPA review and approval, she said.
‘EPA will ensure that all waste is disposed of in a safe and lawful manner at EPA-certified facilities to prevent further release of hazardous substances and impacts to communities,’ Shore said.
She said officials had heard concerns from residents and others in a number of states and were reviewing ‘the transport of some of this waste over long distances and finding the appropriate permitted and certified sites to take the waste.’
The Ohio governor’s office said Saturday night that of the twenty truckloads (approximately 280 tons) of hazardous solid waste hauled away, 15 truckloads of contaminated soil was disposed of at a Michigan hazardous waste treatment and disposal facility while five truckloads had been returned to East Palestine.
Liquid waste already trucked out of East Palestine would be disposed of at a licensed hazardous waste treatment and disposal facility in Texas, but that facility would not accept more liquid waste, the Ohio governor’s office said.
‘Currently, about 102,000 gallons of liquid waste and 4,500 cubic yards of solid waste remain in storage on site in East Palestine, not including the five truckloads returned to the village,’ the governor’s office said. ‘Additional solid and liquid wastes are being generated as the cleanup progresses.’
Pictured: The site of the chemical spill as crews work to suppress the contaminants on Friday
The train derailment on February 3 set off a fire that could be seen from miles away
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in the small Ohio town
No one was injured when 38 Norfolk Southern cars derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of town, but as fears grew about a potential explosion due to hazardous chemicals in five of the rail cars, officials evacuated the area.
They later opted to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from the tanker cars, sending flames and black smoke billowing into the sky again.
Shore said the EPA was not involved in the decision to do the controlled burn, but she called it a ‘well-founded’ decision by local and state officials based on the information they had at the time ‘to deal with a highly explosive toxic chemical.’
Federal and state officials have repeatedly said 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 from the fires or burned chemicals. The state says the local municipal drinking water system is safe, and bottled water is available while testing is conducted for those with private wells.
Despite those assurances and a bevy of news conferences and visits from politicians, many residents still express a sense of mistrust or have lingering questions about what they have been exposed to and how it will impact the future of their families and their communities.
On Friday, President Joe Biden directed federal agencies to go door-to-door in East Palestine, Ohio, to check on families affected by the toxic train derailment.
President Joe Biden was at a loss for words when explaining to reporters why he has yet to visit East Palestine, Ohio, three weeks after the toxic train derailment
The Biden administration has been accused of being apathetic to the plight of the small Ohio community, where residents are reporting worrying symptoms
Under Biden’s order, teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency will visit homes.
Workers will ask how residents are doing, see what they need and connect them with appropriate resources from government and nonprofit organizations, the White House said.
The ‘walk teams’ are modeled on similar teams following hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Biden directed employees to get to as many homes as possible by Monday. Officials said the immediate goal was to visit at least 400. The president said he currently has no plans to personally visit Ohio.
Biden on Friday rejected the notion that his administration hasn’t been present in providing assistance in a bizarre exchange as he left the White House to spend the weekend at his Delaware home.
‘We were there two hours after the train went down. Two hours,’ Biden said at the White House. ‘I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and in Ohio. And so the idea that we’re not engaged is simply not there.’
But Democrats – including blundering Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg – have been accused of initially playing the disaster down. They were embarrassed into taking it more seriously after a well-publicized visit to the site by former President Donald Trump earlier this week.
An East Palestine resident waits for former US President Donald Trump’s arrival during his visit to the site of a train wreck and chemical spill in East Palestine
A resident displays a mannequin on their porch in East Palestine, Ohio, as cleanup from the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment continues
Trump boasted earlier this week that he visited the Ohio town before Biden or Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as he delivered water and food supplies
A timeline given out by the White House Friday said DOT provided ‘initial incident notification’ to members of the Ohio congressional delegation and relevant committees on Saturday, Feb. 4, less than a day after the derailment.
That same day, EPA deployed real-time air monitoring instruments in 12 locations surrounding the wreck site and in the neighboring community, the White House said.
Meanwhile, the controversy spread far beyond the little Ohio town. Officials in Texas and Michigan expressed concern about contaminated wastewater and soil being transported to their states for disposal.
Biden’s order came as House Republicans opened an investigation into the Feb. 3 derailment, blaming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for what they contend was a delayed response to the fiery wreck.
The focus on DOT came even though the EPA took charge of the federal response this week and ordered Norfolk Southern railway to pay for the cleanup and chemical release.
Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, became the latest lawmaker to jump into what has become a political proxy war as each party lays into the other after the derailment and chemical leak that led to evacuation of the small Ohio community.
‘Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week,’ the Kentucky Republican said in a letter to Buttigieg.
‘The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency,’ the letter went on.
Buttigieg (center) arrived the day after Trump, three weeks into the ongoing crisis. He told reporters he was mulling his decision to wait that long
Residents in East Palestine have reported going to the hospital over rashes following the spill
Meanwhile, Buttigieg has hit back at Ex-president Donald Trump who visited the site this week.
Buttigieg told reporters that if the former president — and current Republican presidential candidate — felt strongly about increased rail safety efforts, ‘one thing he could do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch.’
On Friday, Buttigieg chided Comer for referring in his letter to ‘DOT’s National Transportation Safety Board,’ saying he was ‘alarmed to learn’ the committee chairman’ thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department.
NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre excoriated ‘political stunts that we’re seeing from the other side.’
A preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the crew operating the Norfolk Southern freight train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong.
Republicans are framing the incident as a moral failing at the hands of the Biden administration, noting Buttigieg’s failure to visit the site until nearly three weeks after the wreck.
Democrats point to rollbacks former President Donald Trump made during his term that weakened rail and environmental regulations. EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited the site last week and again on Tuesday.
The dangerous chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment
A train carrying a wide-variety of toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3.
Some of those chemicals have since been released into the air or soil, as residents worry about the long-term health effects.
Among the chemicals released from the derailment are:
Vinyl chloride — train operator Norfolk Southern has said that 10 cars were burning vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. It is a highly-volatile colorless gas used to create polyvinyl chloride, a plastic used in piping, cables, bottles and credit cards.
Symptoms of vinyl chloride exposure include drowsiness, headaches and dizziness. More long-term effects may include cancer and liver damage.
Hydrogen chloride — In trying to mitigate the effects of vinyl chloride, officials conducted a controlled explosion of the train cars, releasing hydrogen chloride.
The chemical is irritating and corrosive to any tissue it gets in contact with, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
Brief exposure can cause throat irritation, but exposure at higher levels can result in rapid breathing, narrowing of the bronchioles, blue coloring of the skin, accumulation of fluid in the lungs and even death.
Phosgene — a chemical that was also released in the controlled explosion.
Like hydrogen chloride, phosgene is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.
Common initial symptoms include mild irritation of the eyes and throat, with some coughing, choking, nausea, occasional vomiting, headache and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Phosgene poisoning may also cause respiratory and cardiovascular failure, low blood pressure and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Ethylhexyl acrylate — a chemical that was carried on the train
It is a known carcinogen that can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes. Inhalation of the substance can also irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Isobutylene was also being transported on the train.
Inhalation of isobutylene can cause dizziness and drowsiness
Ethylene glycol monobutyl was another substance being transported to Pennsylvania.
It can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and throat, as well as hematuria (or blood in the urine), nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.