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Cleanup almost finished in East Palestine, EPA says

An excavator dumps soil into a dump truck in East Palestine, Ohio.
In East Palestine, hazardous soil is loaded for off-site disposal.

The U.S. EPA announced Thursday that major work to clean up the site of chemically tainted soil and water in East Palestine, Ohio, is almost complete, nearly nine months after a Norfolk Southern train derailed there.

EPA’s regional administrator Debra Shore stood near the site where five rail cars’ worth of the carcinogen vinyl chloride were vented and burned after the Feb. 3 derailment.

Shore marveled at the progress that crews had made.

“It is completely cleared of hazardous contamination, and it has been filled with clean soil, and filling of the remainder of the site will begin very soon,” Shore said.

She said Norfolk Southern had cleared more than 165 million tons of contaminated soil and over 39 million gallons of liquid waste, but there’s more work to be done.

“This doesn’t mean the cleanup is done or that EPA is going away. But it is another step, a huge step in life returning to normal here in East Palestine,” Shore said.

Over the next few months, the agency will collect 2,500 soil samples “from all across the site to double check and ensure all the contamination is gone,” she said.

But not everyone around East Palestine has been satisfied that the remnants of the chemical release are all gone. Some residents on social media say that streams are still polluted near the site of the disaster. EPA recently ordered Norfolk Southern to do more stream assessment and testing of the oily sheens still visible in nearby Leslie Run and Sulfur Run.

We recognize that you can see a lot of sheen coming off of Sulfur Run,” said Mark Durno, EPA’s site coordinator at East Palestine. “And that’s why we’re engaging in a very thorough and extended assessment.”And scientists say there could still be contamination in the town. That’s why Ohio’s two U.S. Senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican JD Vance, recently asked the EPA to sample for chemicals inside peoples’ homes.

“By allowing Norfolk Southern to skirt its responsibility to the community and refuse to offer this sort of testing following cleanup, the EPA risks eroding the trust of many in our community,” states the letter, which was also signed by five Ohio Congressional representatives.

But the EPA has so far dismissed those requests, saying that some chemicals present in the derailment could also be present in household products and that outside air tests show no contamination.

“Outdoor air monitoring and sampling results continue to indicate no concern with respect to derailment-related chemicals,” Shore said. “We do not see any ongoing pathway for sustained air emissions from outside of people’s homes.”