EPA Argues Study Finding on Derailment's Air Pollution Risks

Government pauses shipments of contaminated waste from site
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2023 5:15 PM CST
Researchers, EPA Differ on Derailment's Air Pollution Risks
East Palestine residents listen to a town hall meeting at East Palestine High School concerning the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern freight train derailment on Friday.   (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

People living near the site of the train derailment in Ohio could face lasting health risks from air pollutants, an analysis at odds with reassurances from government officials shows. Texas A&M University researchers examined Environmental Protection Agency data, the Washington Post reports, finding nine pollutants at problematic levels. Residents in and near East Palestine, where a train carrying chemicals derailed on Feb. 3, have reported rashes, breathing problems and other new health issues since then. The chemicals that concerned the researchers can cause eye and lung irritation, as well as headaches, and some are thought to cause cancer.

The team said exposure would have to last months or years to cause serious problems, and the EPA echoed that Friday. Agency officials said the conclusions were based on constant exposure over a lifetime, and they don't expect high concentrations to remain in the area for "anywhere near that long." The EPA data were collected from Feb. 4 though Feb. 21, said a Texas A&M professor; a controlled release of chemicals took place on Feb. 6. Concentrations were high early in the period, but some pollutants were still elevated recently, said Weihsueh Chiu. He suggested EPA officials would want to "make sure that these higher levels that are detected would be reduced before they left and declared everything cleaned up."

People who don't live in the area have health concerns, too, per the Wall Street Journal, involving:

  • Water sales: Giant Eagle, a grocery chain with hundreds of stores in five states, took water off its shelves that was bottled 25 miles from the derailment site.
  • Travel: Two Ohio high school teams forfeited basketball games rather than go the area to play them.
  • Wastewater: Officials in the Houston area had to calm residents worried about firefighting wastewater from the site that's scheduled to be disposed of in Texas.
On Saturday, the EPA ordered the railroad, Norfolk Southern, to suspend shipments of contaminated waste from East Palestine, per the AP. Debra Shore, a regional EPA administrator, said the railroad has handled the disposals on its own. Norfolk Southern's plans will now be subject to review by the agency. (Read more derailment stories.)

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