U.S. EPA coordinator says East Palestine cleanup is following ‘sound science’

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been on website in East Palestine considering that the Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemical compounds derailed there final month. Given that that time, residents in the neighborhood have reported wellness symptoms, even as agencies like the EPA say their tests have shown no unsafe levels of chemical compounds. 

EPA has come below criticism from some scientists for not testing for the correct chemical compounds. It is also been criticized by U.S. Senator J.D. Vance more than its handling of hazardous waste at the website. The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier spoke with Mark Durno, the EPA’s onsite coordinator in East Palestine. He asked Durno to clarify the agency’s testing protocols. 

LISTEN to the interview

https://www.alleghenyfront.org/wp-content material/uploads/2023/02/AF031723RF_EPAresponse.mp3

Reid Frazier: There’s been a lot of queries about testing of the air, soil and water about East Palestine. Men and women are experiencing symptoms, and however they retain hearing that the testing reveals levels that seem to be protected. Can you lay out how all of this testing is determined? 

Mark Durno: We’re below what we contact a unified command. And the unified command indicates agencies who have duty, who have a stake in what’s taking place, are producing choices and taking action on the ground. And we’ve permitted the railroad, Norfolk Southern, to be element of that unified command for the reason that it is their home and their duty in the end to make the neighborhood complete once more. 

So there’s monitoring, and there’s sampling going on. But what you are definitely obtaining at is why do we have this discrepancy amongst what we’re saying in terms of the security of off-website air releases and the issues that the neighborhood has about lingering wellness troubles. 

So the 1st piece of it is we have to adhere to sound science. We have action levels for the volatile organic chemical compounds that we’ve been monitoring about the website offsite and in people’s properties. And all to date, the only higher levels of volatile organic chemical compounds that we’re seeing considering that the evacuation was lifting, is onsite. We’re not seeing something sustained in the neighborhoods. That is the science side of it. 

But then there’s the neighborhood side of it. And, you know, you cannot deny what the neighborhood is experiencing. Some of the neighborhood members are experiencing wellness effects. There was a wellness clinic — there nevertheless is a wellness clinic — set up to aid residents who have who are possessing wellness troubles. The guidance that we give to the neighborhood members is primarily based on science. We have visited properties exactly where residents have seasoned some wellness troubles. We’ve monitored the inside of these properties, and we haven’t noticed any volatile organic contaminants in these properties to date.

Now, the exception there certainly, is when we enter a residence exactly where there’s people today that have been active smoking — cigarettes in the residence — we will see some slight uptick of VOCs, which is standard cigarette smoke. But we are not seeing something straight connected to vinyl chloride or the other contaminants of concern. So it is that is a tough query to answer when it comes to wellness effects for the reason that wellness impacts can be coming from so lots of diverse sources.

Frazier: So some researchers from Purdue University say that not all the chemical compounds that have been detected on website are truly getting actively tested for by the EPA and other agencies. Is that correct? And how does the EPA respond to that? 

Durno: I saw the news reports on that. I haven’t noticed any written reports or data, so I definitely cannot comment on what they think that we’re we are or are not sampling for that could be in conflict with their reports. 

💡NEW These days: We reviewed government air and water chemical testing information and located a severe foundational difficulty in the previous/ongoing response. @EPA

Agencies are not testing for the similar chemical compounds.

This inhibits choices to guard #publichealth.

Course right necessary.

six/n pic.twitter.com/YhVi2kvXWD

— Andrew Whelton 🔥💧❄️🌪 (@TheWheltonGroup) March 13, 2023

Frazier: These Purdue researchers say that 1 point that is been located in the air but hasn’t been tested in the water is the hazardous chemical acrolein. Are you testing for that? 

Durno: So we are testing for the acrolein loved ones of chemical compounds. Once again, I haven’t noticed any reports from them. I do not know that EPA has noticed reports. And that is definitely tough for us to comment on that. 

But we are we have been searching at acroleins and acrylates. Ohio EPA has the key oversight part on all the function that is going on in the rivers. And I comprehend that the Purdue function was completed with respect to the waterways that had been impacted. So we can verify in with the Ohio EPA on the complete extent of their sampling, their water monitoring and so forth. 

Frazier: Norfolk Southern has hired an environmental consulting firm, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Overall health, which was known as by ProPublica, the go-to contractor for corporations accountable for industrial disasters, and which has been accused, quote, of repeatedly downplaying wellness dangers. Now, CTA is performing testing for Norfolk Southern. Does this concern you as far as providing the public self-assurance in the benefits of testing? 

Durno: So the firm that is in query, we see them on web sites like this all the time. We’ve completed a lot of, sadly a lot of railroad disasters or train derailments. They have a host of air monitoring gear and personnel who have the similar talent sets that we have. So from a ground monitoring standpoint, I think that the information that they’re making, for the reason that we’re overseeing that information, is high-quality information. 

Frazier: Can you update us on the soil cleanup? We have Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, a Republican, criticizing the EPA for not obtaining contaminated soil off the website immediately adequate. He’s also accused the administration of stopping shipment of waste to Michigan for the reason that Democratic elected officials there had objected to it. What is taking place with the waste, and is there any truth to Senator Vance’s allegations? 

Durno: Material is moving offsite. The firm lastly got a contract in spot with a disposal facility to commence sending important amounts of material offsite. So you are going to start off to see trucks moving far more and far more each day. 

You asked about what occurred in Michigan. We’ve had many disposal facilities ask us to pause operations. Some of that was due to some of the queries that we had been obtaining from elected officials. The cause that we stopped was for the reason that there was a concern about the level of chemical evaluation that was completed on the waste piles. So to alleviate fears and issues, we asked for further sampling to be carried out, which it was. 

We had been in a position to clearly demonstrate that the level of contamination was suitable for the kind of disposal that was taking place. And now trucks are moving once more. We are nevertheless hopeful that the firm can get some far more contracts in spot with other facilities and in some of the other states. 

You talked about Michigan. We’re hoping Oklahoma opens up. But once more, we’ll see how that goes amongst the firm and the facilities. And certainly, in all of our states, the elected leaders want to make confident that what’s coming to their states is suitable for the disposal getting carried out. 

Frazier: I imply, just to place a finer point on it, did the Democratic elected officials in Michigan hold any larger sway on this choice-producing than other states? 

Durno: I cannot think that. But at my level, I do not know the answer. 

Mark Durno is U.S. EPA’s onsite coordinator in East Palestine, Ohio. 

Note: The Ohio EPA, the state agency there, mentioned in an e-mail that it is searching closely at what’s been detected in surface water and released at the derailment website and is adjusting its list of chemical compounds to test for as new data comes in.

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