The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been on web site in East Palestine because the Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemical compounds derailed there final month. Considering that that time, residents in the neighborhood have reported overall health symptoms, even as agencies like the EPA say their tests have shown no unsafe levels of chemical compounds.
EPA has come below criticism from some scientists for not testing for the ideal chemical compounds. 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 concerns about testing of the air, soil and water about East Palestine. Persons are experiencing symptoms, and however they retain hearing that the testing reveals levels that seem to be protected. Can you lay out how all of this testing is determined?
Mark Durno: We’re below what we contact a unified command. And the unified command indicates agencies who have duty, who have a stake in what’s taking place, are producing choices and taking action on the ground. And we’ve permitted the railroad, Norfolk Southern, to be portion of that unified command since it is their home and their duty eventually to make the neighborhood entire once more.
So there’s monitoring, and there’s sampling going on. But what you are definitely having at is why do we have this discrepancy amongst what we’re saying in terms of the security of off-web site air releases and the issues that the neighborhood has about lingering overall health problems.
So the 1st piece of it is we have to comply with sound science. We have action levels for the volatile organic chemical compounds 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 compounds that we’re seeing because 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 can not deny what the neighborhood is experiencing. Some of the neighborhood members are experiencing overall health effects. There was a overall health clinic — there nonetheless is a overall health clinic — set up to assist residents who have who are getting overall health problems. The guidance that we give to the neighborhood members is primarily based on science. We have visited houses exactly where residents have skilled some overall health problems. We’ve monitored the inside of these houses, and we haven’t observed any volatile organic contaminants in these houses to date.
Now, the exception there naturally, is when we enter a dwelling exactly where there’s men and women that have been active smoking — cigarettes in the dwelling — we will see some slight uptick of VOCs, which is standard 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 difficult query to answer when it comes to overall health effects since overall health impacts can be coming from so a lot of various sources.
Frazier: So some researchers from Purdue University say that not all the chemical compounds that have been detected on web site are in fact becoming 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 observed any written reports or details, so I definitely can not comment on what they think that we’re we are or are not sampling for that may be in conflict with their reports.
💡NEW Right now: We reviewed government air and water chemical testing information and identified a significant foundational challenge in the previous/ongoing response. @EPA
Agencies are not testing for the exact same chemical compounds.
This inhibits choices to defend #publichealth.
Course right required.
— Andrew Whelton 🔥💧❄️🌪 (@TheWheltonGroup) March 13, 2023
Frazier: These Purdue researchers say that 1 factor that is been identified 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 compounds. Once more, I haven’t observed any reports from them. I do not know that EPA has observed reports. And that is definitely difficult for us to comment on that.
But we are we have been hunting at acroleins and acrylates. Ohio EPA has the major oversight function on all the function that is going on in the rivers. And I fully grasp that the Purdue function was performed with respect to the waterways that have 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 known as by ProPublica, the go-to contractor for corporations accountable for industrial disasters, and which has been accused, quote, of repeatedly downplaying overall health dangers. Now, CTA is performing testing for Norfolk Southern. Does this concern you as far as providing the public self-assurance in the outcomes of testing?
Durno: So the corporation that is in query, we see them on websites like this all the time. We’ve performed a lot of, sadly a lot of railroad disasters or train derailments. They have a host of air monitoring gear and personnel who have the exact same ability sets that we have. So from a ground monitoring standpoint, I think that the information that they’re generating, since we’re overseeing that information, is high-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 having contaminated soil off the web site promptly adequate. He’s also accused the administration of stopping shipment of waste to Michigan since 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 start sending important amounts of material offsite. So you are going to begin to see trucks moving much more and much more each and every day.
You asked about what occurred in Michigan. We’ve had a number of disposal facilities ask us to pause operations. Some of that was due to some of the concerns that we have been having from elected officials. The cause that we stopped was since there was a concern about the level of chemical evaluation that was performed on the waste piles. So to alleviate fears and issues, we asked for added sampling to be carried out, which it was.
We have been capable to clearly demonstrate that the level of contamination was proper for the kind of disposal that was taking place. And now trucks are moving once more. We are nonetheless hopeful that the corporation can get some much more contracts in location with other facilities and in some of the other states.
You described Michigan. We’re hoping Oklahoma opens up. But once more, we’ll see how that goes amongst the corporation and the facilities. And naturally, in all of our states, the elected leaders want to make confident that what’s coming to their states is proper for the disposal becoming 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 selection-producing than other states?
Durno: I can not 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, mentioned in an e-mail that it is hunting closely at what’s been detected in surface water and released at the derailment web site and is adjusting its list of chemical compounds to test for as new details comes in.
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