Residents Attempt Home Cleanups, EPA Removes Soil

The cleanup of parts of a Norfolk-Southern freight train that derailed Thursday February 9, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.

The cleanup of parts of a Norfolk-Southern freight train that derailed Thursday February 9, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.
photo: Gene J Puskar (AP)

It has been nearly two weeks since a train from Norfolk Southern in northeast Ohio derailed, and emergency response agencies are still working to reduce the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals for residents of eastern Palestine near the site of the derailment.

At a press conference yesterday Kurt Kollar of the Ohio EPA, held by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, said workers were removing dirt near the derailed train. “The goal was to get rid of this heavily contaminated, potentially mobile material before rain events occurred,” he said. “Some of these pits are now about 700 feet long and about 2.5 meters deep in some areas.”

Mary Mertz, the director of Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources, said at the press conference that about 3,500 dead fish were found in local waterways immediately after the derailment. “There appears to have been no increase in fish or aquatic life killed since the first few days of the derailment,” she said. Wildlife officers will continue to monitor the waterways for signs of animal deaths.

The Norfolk Southern Train derailed on Friday February 3rd. Eleven of the derailed cars were carrying hazardous materials, after to the National Transportation Safety Board. On Sunday, the governor issued an evacuation order over fears that the derailed cars would explode, and on Monday the railroad operator and emergency officials executed an evacuation order controlled release from the train of vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical used to make plastics.

Peter DeCarlo, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told Earther he was concerned about states’ lack of response in the wake of the derailment. East Palestine is right on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. “What worries me is the wind direction, which tends to be west to east,” he said. “Much of the impact will be felt downwind… and it will cross that state line.”

According to DeCarlo, the EPA shouldn’t rely so heavily on air monitoring, which is done with handheld devices that can’t provide specific chemical measurements. according to a February 13 update from the EPA, the agency used two more “Summa air sampling canisters.” The air trapped in the canister is taken to a laboratory and analyzedso researchers can test for specific chemicals.

“This is the type of monitoring that really gives us an idea of ​​what the concentrations of potential risk are,” DeCarlo explained. “So if they don’t do that at the accident site and downwind of the accident site, they’re overlooking the potential risks.”

Many locals are still concerned about their safety. Chaney Nezbeth is the executive director of a faith-based nonprofit organization in Ohio called The intermediate station, which has provided food, cleaning supplies and clothing to the residents of East Palestine. “Three, four, five days later, so many people came to us,” Nezbeth told Earther over the phone. “They were still wearing their pajamas, the things they left in on Friday night … everyone figured they could come in the next day.”

The organization also tries to answer questions from families in the East Palestine region. “There’s someone on Facebook [asking] Whatever the mulch is that’s laid out in the playground in the city park, is that contaminated now? The Way Station can do that. We can get the research on that… we can find volunteers,” she said.

To Nezbeth’s knowledge, many people had to return home, whether they felt safe or not. Some families could not afford to stay away longer. Others are cleaning their homes in hopes that this will reduce potential hazards related to the chemicals on the derailed train. “I think everyone’s just trying to be safe,” she said. “They assume that the cereal box they had open in the closet should be thrown away.”

Karen Dannemiller, an associate professor at Ohio State University who has studied indoor air quality, says people are right to be wary of their homes. “We spend 90% of our time indoors,” she told Earther. “Precisely because of the long periods of time people spend indoors, this can be an important source of exposure.”

She suggested washing anything that’s clingingodors, such as clothing and bedding, and careful vacuuming in short bursts to avoid kicking up too much dust. “I think it would be a great idea if everyone, if available, participated in the indoor air quality tests,” Dannemiller said. She also encouraged residents who are concerned or confused about chemicals announced by officials or agencies to look them up in the EPAs online database.

According to an EPA letter On February 10, the train released “vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether” into the “air, surface soils, and surface waters.” The agency announced Rail operator Norfolk Southern that it can be responsible for the payment for the page cleaning costs. Residents Attempt Home Cleanups, EPA Removes Soil

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