Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine are set to visit the toxic train derailment site in East Palestine Wednesday for an update on the removal of the hazardous waste from the wreck.
Crews are expected to begin removing the train tracks as soon as Wednesday to clean the hazardous waste underneath the derailment site, nearly four weeks after the fiery February 3 crash and subsequent release of dangerous chemical vinyl chloride from its cars, according to the governor’s office.
The governor and first lady will also visit Sulphur Run and Leslie Run – two contaminated Ohio waterways – for an update on water testing and washing of the sediment in the streambeds.
The visit comes as the US Environmental Protection Agency is deploying a mobile laboratory to conduct “real time” air monitoring and sampling in the small town, regional EPA Administrator Debra Shore said Tuesday. The mobile lab, also known as a TAGA bus, will allow for air samples to be analyzed on site and deliver results quickly, instead of waiting for samples to be sent away to an off-site lab.
And as East Palestine residents express concerns about possible dioxins in the soil, the EPA is now exploring different kinds of soil sampling, Shore said.
The new measures are being implemented as anxiety remains among residents about symptoms like rashes and headaches being potentially tied to the wreck and as scientists say tests in East Palestine show unusually high levels of some chemicals.
An analysis of data from the EPA’s measurements of pollutants released from the Norfolk Southern train derailment suggests that some of the monitored chemicals are higher than would normally be found in the area, according to scientists from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon University.
If the levels of some of these chemicals remain high, it could be a problem for residents’ health in the long term, the scientists say.
The EPA and local government officials have repeatedly said that their tests show the air quality in the area is safe and that the chemicals should dissipate.
Air monitoring data shows that levels of monitored chemicals “are below levels of concern for adverse health impacts from short-term exposures,” an EPA spokesperson told CNN on Monday, adding that risks referenced by the analysis “assume a lifetime of exposure, which is constant exposure over approximately 70 years. EPA does not anticipate levels of these chemicals will stay high for anywhere near that.”
EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN on Tuesday that he also remains confident in the EPA’s testing.
“Let me be clear – EPA is testing for all toxic chemicals,” Regan said. “We have a complete inventory of everything that was on that train, and everything we’re monitoring for and testing for, we understand the levels of potential adverse health impacts from those toxics or any byproducts.”
As things currently stand: the air in 578 homes was tested and the EPA reported detecting no contaminants associated with the derailment; test results from 19 private wells found no evidence of contaminants linked to the train derailment; and EPA tests of public drinking water “confirm that there is no indication of risk to East Palestine public water system customers,” the agency said.
Norfolk Southern will be providing the agency with an analysis of how much contamination there is and the steps the company is taking to clean it up, Regan said.
“The cleanup is just getting started,” Regan told CNN’s Miguel Marquez. “We gave the company an order to clean this mess up – they have a few more days to present a work plan to us.”
Although testing has shown East Palestine’s municipal water supply is safe to drink, Regan said, he advised children and adults not to play in the town’s creeks and streams.
As residents continue to question the safety of their air and water, nearly 140 people have sought help at a public health clinic that opened in East Palestine on February 21 to address concerns related to the toxic wreck. The clinic is working with the CDC to help study the health impacts to residents of the derailment.
Across the Ohio state line from East Palestine, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is opening a health resource center in Beaver County so residents “can talk to public health experts, sign up to have their well water tested, and learn about available resources from professionals there to help,” Gov. Josh Shapiro tweeted Tuesday.
While testing continues, work is underway to remove contaminated liquid and soil from the derailment site.
Since the hazardous waste from East Palestine is being shipped for disposal in other locations, including different states, Regan said the agency is developing measures to give authorities a “heads up” about incoming waste shipments and to keep Norfolk Southern accountable for the material it is moving.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he objects to the EPA Administrator’s decision to move hazardous waste from the East Palestine to Indiana, adding that there “has been a lack of communication” with him and other Indiana officials about the decision.
Holcomb is the latest official to raise concerns about the shipments.
Last week, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to temporarily stop the shipments so that it could review the company’s disposal plans. Officials in Texas and Michigan had complained they didn’t get any warning that waste from the toxic crash site would be shipped to their states.
Meanwhile, two Texas officials released a statement saying they consider having the water processed in their community to be a way they can help the people of East Palestine.
“This is what Texans do; we help our neighbors in need,” Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton, Jr. and Harris County commissioner Adrian Garcia said.
An environmental disposal company, Texas Molecular, will be handling more wastewater in Deer Park. Mouton, Jr. and Garcia say they don’t believe the news that more tainted water is heading to their area is a problem.
“Our offices have been in regular contact with Texas Molecular since the very beginning, and based on their transparency and demonstrated expertise, as well as permitted compliance in the field of waste disposal, we are confident in their ability to dispose of the water safely,” they said.
The EPA identified several locations that can take contaminated waste from the derailment site, including most recently, Ross Incineration Services in Grafton, Ohio, and Heritage Environmental Services in Roachdale, Indiana.
So far, approximately 280 tons of contaminated soil and 319,002 gallons of liquid waste have gone to licensed hazardous waste disposal facilities in Michigan. About 1.249 million gallons of liquid waste from the crash went to a Texas facility, and two 28-cubic-yard boxes of contaminated soil were sent this week to Heritage Thermal Services, a licensed hazardous waste disposal facility in East Liverpool, Ohio, according to a Monday update from DeWine’s office.
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway addressed concerns about the shipments from his town to waste facilities Tuesday, saying, “They knew the facilities were in their states, and I understand their concern. But at the same time, it’s governed by the federal EPA, so it should be safe for all the citizens there.”
Recent heavy rain in East Palestine may have complicated clean-up efforts.
The governor’s office on Tuesday said rainfall increased water flow in a contaminated section of Sulphur Run, which remains dammed, and caused “minor damage” that “may have caused a small amount of heavily diluted contaminants from Sulphur Run to enter Leslie Run,” the governor’s office said.
The rain also filled Norfolk Southern’s contaminated liquid storage bins, necessitating the use of semi trucks to remove liquid wastewater from the derailment site and offload it into rail cars stationed at the rail yards in Lordstown, Ohio, DeWine’s office said.