EPA, Local Leaders Testify on Environmental Response to Ohio Train Derailment

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 12:18 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Federal and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency leaders testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, to explain how they have been responding to the East Palestine Ohio train derailment that happened in February.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) said the hearing was being held to learn more about the government’s environmental response and cleanup efforts.

“This hearing is about them. The citizens of East Palestine. It’s about those worried families who’ve had their lives flipped upside down. It’s about getting them answers and ensuring their long term health,” said Congressman Johnson.

U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore told lawmakers that the agency is using one of their most powerful tools to hold Norfolk Southern accountable. She said the EPA issued what is called a unilateral administrative order, which includes a number of directives to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water resources. It requires that the company attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and to post information online. The order also orders the company to pay EPA’s costs for work performed under the order.

She said Norfolk Southern could face consequences if they do not comply.

“If the company fails to complete any of the EPA’s ordered actions, the agency will immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek punitive damages at up to three times the costs,” said Shore.

Shore also said there has been been tremendous progress in cleanup efforts including removing more than 9 million gallons of liquid waste 10,000 tons of soil and said the pace is picking up “and the job is getting done.”

She also emphasized that the EPA has lead multi-layered air quality testing which is continuing daily at 23 stations throughout the local community.

Shore said that EPA monitors have not detected any volatile organic compounds above established levels of health concerns and added that more than 600 homes have also been screen she said said no sustained or elevated detections of chemicals has been identified.

Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Anne Vogel said her agency’s priority continues to be overseeing the removal of contaminated soil. She said that work will continue for at least two more months as the railroad removes contaminated soul from under the tracks and works to restore creeks.

“U.S. EPA has brought the most sophisticated technology available to continually monitor and ensure that the air we are all breathing in is Palestine is safe,” said Vogel. “In direct response to community feedback, we have undertaken a robust soil sampling effort. U.S. EPA recently announced that soil samples collected at the park in the village did not show concerning levels of contamination.”

Congressman Johnson asked if environmental officials are taking steps to protect residents from potential contaminants in the soil.

“The steps that we’re taking to protect any soil from contaminating the town are fairly extensive,” said Vogel. “These are very carefully controlled areas that have been built just to store contaminated soil. They’re layered carefully. They’re covered in terms of transport... The tires are washed. There’s street sweepers. We’re doing everything we can to contain even the water that washes the tires of the trucks. We are vacuuming that out and storing that water is because it’s contaminated.”