The EPA published its latest update on Jul. 28 concerning East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment disaster on Feb. 3, 2023. There were 150 cars involved in the derailment, 50 of which were affected. According to the EPA’s “background” statement on the disaster:
“Twenty of the affected cars contained hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, and isobutylene. Some cars caught fire. Some cars spilled their loads into an adjacent ditch that feeds Sulphur Run, a stream that joins Leslie Run, which eventually empties into the Ohio River.”
This Week at E.P. – EPA provides an update on the upcoming work at the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment site. pic.twitter.com/rsTRpynAhe
— EPA Great Lakes (@EPAGreatLakes) July 31, 2023
The EPA has published a website dedicated to the East Palestine train derailment disaster, complete with a local and frequent newsletter, daily updates, resources for residents, plans for and results of air, water, and soil sediment sampling data, and other important information for local residents. A complete timeline of the EPA’s remedies for the contamination from the derailment can be found here.
The website is a valuable resource, especially for affected communities, because it provides a timeline of updates on the clean-up process and key information about the disaster itself. The EPA updates began on Feb. 4, 2023.
The Norfolk Southern Contamination Report
On Feb. 12, 2023, the EPA posted a two-page Norfolk Southern document that lists the cars involved and the products they were carrying at the time of the derailment. The EPA states it was “initially informed orally of the contents of derailed cars” so that it could develop its “air monitoring plan.”
Air and water monitoring and sampling were the initial focus of the EPA’s disaster response. ASPECT, or Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology, is being used to perform the air monitoring, according to the Feb. 7 report. ASPECT uses various technologies to evaluate air quality and particulates, including Infrared Line Scanners, High-Speed Infrared Spectrometers, Gamma-Ray Spectrometers, Neutron Detection Systems, Hi-res digital cameras, and satellite data. According to the reports, the EPA continues to evaluate air and water in the surrounding area and residents’ homes, including resident wells.
The removal of cars not involved in the derailment and excavation also began in early to mid-February. On Feb. 21, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct “all necessary actions” to clean up the site, asking for reimbursement for all of the EPA’s services. A hotline was made available on Feb. 24 to support the local resident and businesses. According to the EPA website, the FEMA canvassing of area homes also began on Feb. 24. Feb. 28 roughly marks the beginning of the EPA’s “phase 2 response.”
Phase 2 signaled a shift to long-term clean-up, with measures expanding to excavating and sampling contaminated soil at the beginning of March. The EPA website provides multiple updates on soil sampling efforts. For example, the Mar. 12 soil sampling includes information about soil removal and tracks locations, community outreach efforts, and home re-entry screenings. By Mar. 15, according to the report, 3,900 tons of contaminated soil was shipped, 6.4 million gallons of liquid wastewater were removed using “frac tanks,” and 616 indoor air screenings had been completed. Toward the end of March, the EPA shifted to larger temporary holding tanks to “reduce the onsite Frac Tank” footprint.
Notably, Mar. 21 Newsletter shows continued progress on the site and surrounding areas. Throughout, it seems the EPA has been earnest and communicative about the steps it has taken to clean up the site. Services for individual home clean-up have also been made available to qualified residents. Informational videos, a dashboard featuring photo evidence of air samples taken and their results, soil sample reports, and more can be found throughout the reports.
Norfolk Southern began rebuilding the “south track” in early to mid-April with “excavation of the north track and clean-up of the impacted soil” beginning on Apr. 22. By Apr. 25, trains were “operating on the southern track in both directions,” and the replacement of the north track was completed on Jun. 16.
By the end of July, according to the Jul. 28 report and Jul. 25 newsletter, the cleaning of frac tanks was well underway. The on-site water treatment plant is now pending approval. To date, massive amounts of water, waste, and soil have been hauled offsite “for proper disposal,” although removal is still ongoing. Air continues to be monitored as well by two mobile units.
Prior to the Jun. 27 newsletter, newsletters from the EPA were more frequent—going out on a weekly basis in the months following the derailment. As of Jun. 27, the newsletters began to go out every other week, with the following newsletter due to publish on Aug. 8, according to the EPA website.
Despite his “promises” to do so, President Biden has yet to show up in East Palestine.
Still no update on Joe Biden’s visit to East Palestine, Ohio pic.twitter.com/D6LNod8fhl
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) July 26, 2023