EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced on Friday that cleanup for the train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio, will take three months.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all citizens within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of chemicals on the vehicle. Vinyl chloride, a 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.
Regan said on social media that Norfolk Southern, the rail company at the center of the incident, has removed “nearly half” of contaminated soil from the tracks, as well as 6.8 million gallons of liquid waste and 5,400 tons of solid waste. He remarked during a press event that there has been “real progress” in the cleanup effort, but contended that Norfolk Southern “could be moving faster to remove contaminated soil from East Palestine,” according to a report from CNN.
The EPA ordered last month that Norfolk Southern must clean contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for cleaning services provided to residents and businesses, and attend meetings to update residents on the cleanup process. The agency also vowed to “immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” if the firm neglects to adequately complete enumerated cleanup actions.
The state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern in federal court earlier this week in an attempt to hold the firm financially liable for the disaster.
Regan added that some states were “inhibiting the company’s ability to execute contracts.” A number of officials, such as Governor Eric Holcomb (R-IN) and Governor Kevin Stitt (R-OK), had moved to block the EPA from transporting shipments of chemical materials over hundreds of miles to their states, asserting that the waste should remain as close to the disaster site as possible.
“There are too many unanswered questions and ultimately I made the decision that this is not in the best interest of Oklahomans,” Stitt commented earlier this week. “As of late last night that shipment has been blocked.”
Regan nevertheless revealed on social media that he issued notices demanding that state authorities accept the shipments. “No one should impede or prevent this cleanup as we return East Palestine to the beautiful community residents know it to be,” he remarked. “The residents of East Palestine should expect that states, private companies, and the federal government will work together to effectuate the swift cleanup they deserve.”
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Even as Regan said that the cleanup process would take three more months, researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University found that nine chemicals present on the train have higher concentrations than normal in the community’s air and water supplies, posing the risk of long-term health complications to residents. State and federal officials have repeatedly claimed that the air and water in East Palestine are safe for consumption.
The EPA more recently announced that Norfolk Southern must test for dioxins, a type of pollutant that can be created by the combustion of vinyl chloride and may take decades to decompose. The substances attach to soil particles and have been known to enter drinking water supplies through waste incineration or discharges from chemical factories.
A team of journalists and producers from The Daily Wire who visited East Palestine last month 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 by spending an extended period of time in the community. Citizens of East Palestine told the team that their livelihoods are threatened as customers from the region avoid their businesses and family farms.