EPA Orders Norfolk Southern to Clean Rail Disaster Site

February 21, 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday ordered rail operator Norfolk Southern to clean the contaminated soil and water at the site of the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern was also ordered to attend all public meetings with local residents. Further, the EPA ordered the rail company to submit a work plan for Agency approval for the clean-up, following the crash nearly three weeks ago, which had sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Hundreds of townspeople were evacuated after the train derailed and Norfolk Southern was forced to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals from crashed rail cars to prevent an explosion.

The burning chemical was identified as vinyl chloride. The flammable gas is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, rail car interior features such as upholstery, and plastic kitchenware.

The EPA has stated that “inhaled vinyl chloride has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans,” and there are other potential effects from exposure to it.

While it was deemed safe to return home on February 8, residents have questioned how safe their village is and the validity of the air as well as water tests.

Butyl acrylate was detected in the Ohio River following the train crash, but on Friday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said the level of chemicals in the Ohio River is no longer detectable.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a health guidance bulletin stating that the butyl acrylate can start having negative health effects at 560 parts per billion. On Thursday, the Ohio EPA reported Thursday that the highest levels detected were three parts per billion.

On Tuesday, the state of Ohio set up a health clinic for residents who have complained of suffering from symptoms such as rashes, nausea and headaches.

The EPA further said on Tuesday that it plans to create a “unified command structure” to coordinate the clean-up related efforts alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio EPA, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Norfolk Southern.

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