U.S. EPA coordinator says East Palestine cleanup is following ‘sound science’
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been on web site in East Palestine given that the Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemical substances derailed there final month. Due to the fact 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 substances.
EPA has come beneath criticism from some scientists for not testing for the ideal chemical substances. It is also been criticized by U.S. Senator J.D. Vance more than its handling of hazardous waste at the web site. 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
Reid Frazier: There’s been a lot of queries about testing of the air, soil and water about East Palestine. People today are experiencing symptoms, and however they retain hearing that the testing reveals levels that seem to be secure. Can you lay out how all of this testing is determined?
Mark Durno: We’re beneath what we get in touch with a unified command. And the unified command implies agencies who have duty, who have a stake in what’s taking place, are creating choices and taking action on the ground. And we’ve permitted the railroad, Norfolk Southern, to be portion of that unified command due to the fact it is their home and their duty in the end to make the neighborhood entire once again.
So there’s monitoring, and there’s sampling going on. But what you are definitely obtaining at is why do we have this discrepancy involving what we’re saying in terms of the security of off-web site air releases and the issues that the neighborhood has about lingering wellness challenges.
So the initially piece of it is we have to stick to sound science. We have action levels for the volatile organic chemical substances that we’ve been monitoring about the web site offsite and in people’s houses. And all to date, the only higher levels of volatile organic chemical substances that we’re seeing given 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 nonetheless is a wellness clinic — set up to support residents who have who are possessing wellness challenges. The guidance that we give to the neighborhood members is primarily based on science. We have visited houses exactly where residents have skilled some wellness challenges. We’ve monitored the inside of these houses, and we haven’t noticed any volatile organic contaminants in these houses to date.
Now, the exception there definitely, is when we enter a dwelling exactly where there’s folks that have been active smoking — cigarettes in the dwelling — we will see some slight uptick of VOCs, which is regular 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 really hard query to answer when it comes to wellness effects due to the fact wellness impacts can be coming from so a lot of various sources.
Frazier: So some researchers from Purdue University say that not all the chemical substances that have been detected on web site are really getting actively tested for by the EPA and other agencies. Is that accurate? And how does the EPA respond to that?
Durno: I saw the news reports on that. I haven’t noticed any written reports or information and facts, so I definitely cannot comment on what they think that we’re we are or are not sampling for that could possibly be in conflict with their reports.
💡NEW Nowadays: We reviewed government air and water chemical testing information and discovered a significant foundational challenge in the previous/ongoing response. @EPA
Agencies are not testing for the identical chemical substances.
This inhibits choices to shield #publichealth.
Course appropriate necessary.
— Andrew Whelton 🔥💧❄️🌪 (@TheWheltonGroup) March 13, 2023
Frazier: These Purdue researchers say that a single point that is been discovered 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 family members of chemical substances. Once again, I haven’t noticed any reports from them. I do not know that EPA has noticed reports. And that is definitely really hard for us to comment on that.
But we are we have been seeking at acroleins and acrylates. Ohio EPA has the main oversight part on all the function that is going on in the rivers. And I fully grasp that the Purdue function was carried out 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 Well being, which was named 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 undertaking testing for Norfolk Southern. Does this concern you as far as providing the public self-confidence in the final results of testing?
Durno: So the corporation that is in query, we see them on web sites like this all the time. We’ve carried out lots of, regrettably lots of railroad disasters or train derailments. They have a host of air monitoring gear and personnel who have the identical ability sets that we have. So from a ground monitoring standpoint, I think that the information that they’re making, due to the fact we’re overseeing that information, is good 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 web site promptly sufficient. He’s also accused the administration of stopping shipment of waste to Michigan due to the fact 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 corporation lastly got a contract in location with a disposal facility to commence sending substantial amounts of material offsite. So you are going to start out to see trucks moving additional and additional every single day.
You asked about what occurred in Michigan. We’ve had quite a few 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 purpose that we stopped was due to the fact there was a concern about the level of chemical evaluation that was carried out on the waste piles. So to alleviate fears and issues, we asked for extra sampling to be carried out, which it was.
We had been in a position to clearly demonstrate that the level of contamination was proper for the form of disposal that was taking place. And now trucks are moving once again. We are nonetheless hopeful that the corporation can get some additional contracts in location with other facilities and in some of the other states.
You described Michigan. We’re hoping Oklahoma opens up. But once again, we’ll see how that goes involving the corporation and the facilities. And definitely, in all of our states, the elected leaders want to make positive that what’s coming to their states is proper 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-creating 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, stated in an e-mail that it is seeking closely at what’s been detected in surface water and released at the derailment web site and is adjusting its list of chemical substances to test for as new information and facts comes in.