© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sen. J.D. Vance slams EPA for slow removal of toxic soil pile in East Palestine

 Crews work at the site East Palestine train derailment on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Crews work at the site East Palestine train derailment on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Toxic soil excavated from the site still has not been trucked away.

U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Monday, saying they're taking too long to remove a huge pile of excavated toxic soil in East Palestine.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office said the toxic hill weighs approximately 26,800 tons. So far, only 3,080 tons of toxic soil have been removed from the town.

The Biden administration and the EPA, Vance said, must pressure state leaders to allow the toxic soil to be disposed of in facilities in their states.

"I understand some states don’t want to take it, but ultimately you have to get this stuff out of East Palestine and get it in properly licensed facilities, or it’s going to continue to poison this community," Vance said.

The EPA had previously halted shipments of toxic material heading to facilities in Michigan and Texas. Shipments resumed to new facilities in Ohio and Indiana after the EPA implemented additional oversight measures. Vance criticized that move.

"When you have certain states, Michigan in particular, refusing to take the toxic waste from East Palestine, that is in part because the federal EPA has given Michigan permission to do that," Vance said. "At a very fundamental level, this needs to be a negotiation between Norfolk Southern and any waste facility disposal site."

State governments and political leaders should not be involved in those decisions, Vance said.

"If you have licensed facilities that take the toxic chemicals, you got to send it there," Vance said.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment. According to DeWine's office, 6.06 million gallons of liquid wastewater have been shipped out of East Palestine. However, there's no timeline for removal of the toxic soil, Vance said.

"The problem is not that it’s taking too much time. The problem is I believe we’re now close to day 10 where there hasn’t been a single truckload that’s been taken out of this community," Vance said. "How does that make any sense?"

Vance said he suspects politics is at play.

"I worry that the reason Michigan has been given preferential treatment from the EPA is because the leader of Michigan is a leader in the Democratic party, OK?," Vance said. "I think that they would be treated maybe a little bit differently if they had different political leadership, but this should not be a political question."

DeWine also criticized the EPA last week for starting and stopping removal, saying the agency added an extra regulatory step in the process.

Recovery cannot begin in East Palestine until all the toxic waste is removed, Vance said.

"Recovery for East Palestine is basically impossible until we clean up the mounds of toxic dirt," Vance said. "The fact that we have this massive chemical spill and the people here still don't have any confidence that this stuff is going to get moved out of their community in a timely way is a complete disgrace and a complete failure."

Vance is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Railway Safety Act and called on his colleagues in Congress to pass that, as well as further legislation that would provide long-term financial support for residents of East Palestine.

“We’ve talked about Paycheck Protection Programs, so people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own actually have some money coming in to support them," Vance said.

Support for East Palestine residents, like calls for better rail safety, is a bipartisan issue, he said.

“I certainly think there’s a bipartisan consensus here that we can’t just let East Palestine fall by the wayside in the coming months and years," Vance said. "Certainly, the people here are terrified that’s exactly what is going to happen.”

Vance also called for federal support to help the town’s tax base recover and for homeowners who lose property value.

"You still have hundreds of families that have left East Palestine, and some of them will come back. Some of them will not," Vance said. "Well that's going to affect the tax base of this community, and somebody needs to step up and make sure that the local community does not suffer because of it."

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.