EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WJW) – Crews on Tuesday worked to remove damaged rail cars from the site of a fiery derailment on Friday.
This comes a day after a controlled release of vinyl chloride from five of the 50 derailed cars sent a massive cloud of toxic smoke overhead.
“Four of those cars have been cleared from the wreckage already and we will continue to work our way down to get to the fifth car through the other damaged cars in the derailment,” said Norfolk Southern spokesman Scott Deutch on Tuesday.
Officials said in a Tuesday night press conference that despite the cleanup, there was still no timeline for residents to return to their homes.
Tests are continuing to be done overnight and officials said they’d update the public as soon as they know more. A press conference is planned for sometime Wednesday.
Incident commanders on Monday described the detonation of a small hole in each of the five rail cars, releasing their toxic contents, as the best of their options facing a potentially catastrophic explosion otherwise.
On Tuesday, the fires were out and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said they were pleased with the results of air quality tests that were being conducted at the site itself and both inside and outside of a mile-wide perimeter.
“We did not detect anything of significance on-site with outside the evacuation area. We did respond to a number of concerns of people noticing odors and smoke in other areas and we sent teams to collect readings there. We didn’t find any levels of concern at that time,” said James Justice of the U.S. EPA.
Still, residents and employees of businesses within the perimeter were not yet allowed to return to their homes Tuesday as the Ohio National Guard was helping gather data for analysis to determine what is and what is not safe.
“It’s not as simple as just sampling the air. Those teams will deploy forward. They will sample areas in the low spaces where any affected material may have settled. They will be going into various residences and various businesses sampling in basements, sampling surfaces,” said Major General John Harris, who heads the Ohio National Guard.
East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick could not answer questions about exactly what they were concerned about within the evacuation area and could not provide any timeline of when they might know.
“We are referencing subject matter experts to give us that data of what safe limits are to get these people to their homes,” said Drabick, who said they are not just testing for the toxic remnants of the vinyl chloride, but for anything harmful.
“Once I am sure that I can bring everybody back home in a safe and effective manner and get them back into their home, we will do that as quickly as we can,” he added.
In the meantime, Jim McIntyre of the American Red Cross says they are prepared to continue providing shelter at East Palestine High School for as long as residents are unable to return to their homes.