EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Shipments of contaminated soil and water from the site of a toxic Norfolk Southern train derailment earlier this month resumed Monday, after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a temporary halt over the weekend.
Contaminated water is being sent to an underground injection well in Vickery, Sandusky County, while the solid waste is being sent to the Heritage Thermal Services incinerator in East Liverpool, which is about 20 miles south of East Palestine in Columbiana County.
Two new disposal sites were also announced Monday, helping federal officials reach the capacity needed to clean up the site: Ross Incineration Services in Grafton and another Heritage Thermal site in Indiana. The railroad is expected to start shipping the waste to Grafton on Tuesday, EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore told reporters.
Representatives of Ross briefed reporters on Monday (as seen in the video below).
“We’ve been asked to help East Palestine as quickly as possible,” James Larson, CEO of Ross Environmental Services, Inc., said in a news release. “This is what we do every day, and incineration is the best available technology to safely handle this material. This incident has caused our fellow Ohioans to suffer heartbreak, fear and anger. We share in those sentiments.”
The soil, gravel and plastic and wooden debris coming by truck to the Grafton site are from the area where spill chemicals were burned after the derailment, according to the release.
The company’s high-temperature incinerator is designed for hazardous organic contaminants, and has met “the strictest” EPA standards, according to the release. It includes a pollution control system that captures any leftover contaminants after they’re burned.
Shore on Monday reassured residents that the agency is confident in the safety of the process.
“The EPA will ensure that all waste is disposed of in a safe and lawful manner at EPA-certified facilities,” she said.
Also on Monday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Cleveland, D-Ohio, met privately with residents of East Palestine to hear their concerns.
“People want their community back. They want to see Norfolk Southern take care of what it’s promised. The EPA handed out a rule today that said if Norfolk Southern refuses to do what they said, effective today, they pay three times the amount of whatever they refused to pay,” said Brown afterwards.
Brown, a Democrat, was not critical of President Biden for not visiting the community, saying it would really not make a difference noting that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the federal EPA administrator and others had been there and that he is in constant contact with the president and/or his staff about East Palestine.
“I’m making sure that the president and DOT and others keep focused on this and my staff and I are going to be here day-by-day, week-by-week, to make sure this community gets what it’s owed because of this malfeasance of Norfolk Southern,” said Brown.
When East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway was asked at a Monday media briefing whether he was satisfied with the government’s response thus far he said, “Yes and no.”
Experts have said the village is safe, and so far, locals have had to take those experts at their word. So he questions why people are still reporting rashes and other symptoms of chemical exposure.
“We need to get to the bottom of what’s happening,” Conaway told reporters.
Brown was confronted at his press meeting by a local resident who is very concerned about her health and furious about the difficulties she is having in getting tests to see if she has been exposed to any toxic materials.
“I’m very frustrated,” Oda Sponsel told FOX 8 News afterward.
“They are not listening to us. We want the soil tested … we want dioxins tested we want blood tested, we want our urine tested, but nobody is listening,” she continued.
Federal officials at a Monday media briefing said East Palestine residents who have been unable to receive testing through their doctors should go to the state clinic established after the derailment at First Church of Christ, located, 20 W. Martin St.
Every visitor to the clinic has been seen by a physician who offers individual assessments and medical evaluations, said Miranda Williams, chief of staff at the Ohio Department of Health. Visitors are also given surveys to document their potential chemical exposure.
U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan is expected to return to the village Tuesday, when a new federal outreach center is expected to open at 25 N. Market St.
“We’re setting this place up as a location where members of the greater East Palestine community can drop in to meet with staff from the EPA and learn about services available to support the community,” Shore said Monday.
Another public meeting for residents is set for 6 p.m. Thursday in the gymnasium of East Palestine High School, 360 W. Grant St.
President Joe Biden ordered door-to-door checks in the village earlier this month.
Federal Emergency Management Agency workers have connected with more than 500 residents in the last couple of days, Thomas Sivak, FEMA regional administrator, said Monday. They continue to deliver flyers and answer questions.
The EPA has established a hotline to take residents’ questions on the derailment or health and safety concerns: 866-361-0526.
U.S. EPA workers have conducted nearly 600 re-entry screenings in the village and continues air quality monitoring at 15 sites, Shore said.
The U.S. EPA has been monitoring air quality while the Ohio EPA has been testing private wells and the public water supply and reporting that there are no health concerns with the air or drinking water.
Researchers from Purdue University, however, claim that they are finding disturbing results from contaminated streams and creeks in the community. Professor Andrew Welton believes many of the concerns of residents are validated by what they are learning.
“There is water contamination in the creeks. It’s heavily contaminated and they haven’t been told how heavily contaminated it is and that they need to not have contact with it,” Welton told FOX 8 News on Monday.
Welton said one of the private wells he and his team have observed was no more than 10 feet from one of the contaminated creeks, explaining how the contamination in the water will eventually make its way through the soil and into the well.
He was also critical of efforts to oxygenate the water in the creeks by pumping water out of the creek and spraying it into the air above the creeks.
“We went and tested above these aeration units and below these aeration units and the level of contamination visually seems to be pretty much the same, so we don’t see any apparent use of these systems, and to our knowledge, there is no data that these systems are actually working,” said Welton.
Among the continuing concerns of residents and business owners in East Palestine is the value of their property.
Melissa Smith owns 1820 House Candle Company in downtown East Palestine where Sen. Brown met with local residents on Monday.
Her family also owns a small farm just about one mile from the train derailment site, where they have raised cattle for nearly a century.
Because she does business online in addition to her downtown store, she said the derailment has not significantly impacted her business. But she is concerned about the perception from outside of East Palestine that the community is not safe.
“We have had air quality tests done, but there is still a cleanup going on, and I can understand their concern. Our big concern would be after the media leaves and after all the attention dies down — what is the future for us?” said Smith.