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As air and water tests continue in East Palestine, EPA administrator asks residents to trust science

An EPA air quality monitor hangs on a street sign in East Palestine.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
An EPA air quality monitor hangs on a street sign in East Palestine.

Harmful toxins from the train derailment and controlled burn in East Palestine have not been detected in home tests, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Since the fire went out, EPA air monitoring has not detected any levels of health concern in the community that are attributed to the train derailment,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan who met with residents and toured the town Thursday, almost two weeks after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

“We are using high tech that spans from an airplane that we deployed over the community to a mobile van. We have stationary air monitors. We are testing for all volatile organic chemicals,” Regan said. “We’re testing for everything that was on that train.”

The EPA has also screened more than 480 homes without detecting vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride, Regan said, adding indoor air screenings continue to be available to anyone who requests one.

Tests of municipal water shows it is safe to drink, said Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel. “We are not showing any evidence of any contaminants,” she said. Testing is ongoing, and the Ohio Department of Health continues to recommend residents drink bottled water.

For homeowners who rely on private wells, a plan to test those waters is in the works, Regan said.

But Ohio is not conducting tests of surfaces because the nature of the controlled release, Vogel explained, caused the materials to combust and dissipate into the air.

The hotline to request air or water testing is 330-849-3919.

Health and emotional support

To East Palestine residents who say they are experiencing health concerns, Rep. Bill Johnson who represents the area, urged them to see a doctor or contact the Columbiana County Health District.

“Go to the doctor. Get a finding on what the ailment is. Get that medical record. Keep that medical record. Make sure the county health official knows about it,” he said.

In a call with President Biden Thursday, Gov. Mike DeWine requested medical and mental health support as well as assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vogel said.

People feeling stress or anxiety or currently in need of emotional support can call a hotline: 800-720-9616.

Holding Norfolk Southern accountable

Government officials Thursday promised to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for cleanup and other costs associated with the derailment. And for residents who accept the checks being provided by the railway operator to cover immediate temporary costs, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown said people should not be giving up their rights to future legal action.

“I just ask Norfolk Southern to not force people’s – so far we think they haven’t done that – to force people to give up their legal rights to accept that money. There is no justification ever for that,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the chemical plume caused by the controlled release of chemicals on the train is flowing down the Ohio River and expected to approach Huntington, West Virginia, on Friday. Vinyl chloride has not been detected in the river, according to the governor’s press release.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is monitoring the plume and has closed water intakes. They also have the capability of treating for contaminants, Vogel said.

“So far, the levels of detection are so far beneath any health concerns as established by the federal agency that determines health levels for new toxins,” she said, “so we don’t have any health concerns.”

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.
Alexandra is originally from Northeast Ohio, but that did not stop her from exciting and new adventures. Before interning at Ideastream Public Media, she interned at The Facts in Clute, Texas, in the summer of 2021.