US EPA orders other states not to block toxic waste from East Palestine train derailment

DeWine: ‘Norfolk Southern has an obligation to put this community back where it was.’

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency on Friday ordered other states not to block toxic waste from the Feb. 3 East Palestine train derailment.

Gov. Mike DeWine made a St. Patrick’s Day visit to East Palestine, where all 1,900 feet of the south railroad tracks and contaminated soil have been excavated and work ongoing for the north tracks.

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“We’re seeing some more progress, but never fast enough,” DeWine said during a media briefing.

The governor praised Friday’s order by the U.S. EPA to prevent other states from blocking waste from going to disposal facilities, which he said has been hindering cleanup efforts.

A total of 1,620 tons of contaminated soil was removed this week, compared to around 900 the week before. However, there is a pile of an estimated 26,700 tons of excavated soil awaiting removal. So far, only 4,600 tons have been removed, he said. Nearly 6.7 million gallons of liquid waste also has been hauled from the village, the governor said.

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“We’ve been abundantly clear with our state partners that waste from East Palestine has been subject to more testing and more analysis with more characterization than many other similar waste regularly accepted at facilities nationwide. States have no basis to prevent receipt of out of state waste from East Palestine while allowing similar waste to be disposed of in their states,” U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said during a Friday morning webinar, WFMJ-TV in Youngstown reported.

The train of about 150 cars included 20 carrying hazardous materials. Of particular concern was vinyl chloride, which was slowly released into the air from five of those cars before crews set it on fire to get rid of the highly flammable, toxic chemicals. The resulting explosion created a dark plume of smoke that hung over the northeast Ohio town just south of Youngstown.

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At least three other substances — butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl — also were released into the air, soil or water, according to the federal agency, which has ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the mess.

DeWine said East Palestine residents have shared concerns about the soil, and question whether it is safe for children to play outside or to mow the lawn as warmer weather arrives.

The U.S. EPA has gridded off the community and is halfway finished with representative sampling, he said.

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“To date we’ve collected over 100 samples,” said Mark Durno of the U.S. EPA who joined DeWine for the media briefing.

The grids go out to a one-mile radius of the derailment site, then another mile to the south that extends well into Pennsylvania, he said.

No results are available yet for the samples that include residential, agricultural, recreational and commercial properties, Durno said.

East Palestine residents also have expressed concerns about lower property values as a result of the derailment, which in turn could mean reduced tax revenue for the schools and community.

“We expect Norfolk Southern to be accountable for that and fill in that gap, whatever that is,” DeWine said. “Norfolk Southern has an obligation to put this community back where it was.”

DeWine said he wants to see a fund established with guidelines on how that money is paid out over future years to address effects down the road, especially possible health issues.

Hellbenders in North Fork Little Beaver Creek

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported finding two healthy hellbender salamanders in North Fork Little Beaver Creek, DeWine said.

Hellbenders, Ohio’s largest amphibian that is endangered, is considered an “indicator species” because its presence or absence is an indicator of the health of the ecosystem.

“Hellbenders can only survive in cool, clean water,” DeWine said.

One hellbender found this week was estimated to be 7 years old and the other was a juvenile. Some live more than 60 years. Both were released back into the creek where they were found.

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