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EPA officials highlight 'ongoing response efforts' during visit to East Palestine

East Palestine train derailment
Posted at 11:11 AM, Feb 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 18:30:13-05

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Tuesday afternoon, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan visited East Palestine, Ohio to announce new resources available to residents. In Regan's opening remarks, he touted the EPA's Community Welcome Center that is now open for residents. The facility, located at 25 North St., East Palestine, is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. He also touched on air and water testing and concerns regarding dioxins.

You can watch the news conference in the player below:

EPA visiting East Palestine to 'highlight ongoing response efforts'

According to Regan, residents and business owners can go to the welcome center to get their questions answered, to sign up for in-home air monitoring, and to learn more about cleaning services.

"I recognize there has been a deficit of trust. This community has gone through a lot over the last several weeks and understandably continue to wonder what the future looks like for East Palestine," he said. "I can promise that as this community continues to look forward, we're going to be here every step of the way for as long as it takes. We aren't going anywhere."

East Palestine resident, William John Jr., confirmed the mistrust among community members remains high.

"We are not drinking that water, we are using bottled water," Kohn said. "Even with the water filter on our faucet we are still afraid to use the water, because we don't know what's going to happen."

Last week, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct a cleanup of contaminated soil and water resources near the site. It also ordered Norfolk Southern to reimburse the EPA for cleaning services that will be offered to residents and businesses. These cleaning services will be conducted by the EPA and government contractors. The EPA said if Norfolk Southern refuses the order, it will require the company to pay triple the costs.

"We are providing an in-home throughout cleaning service as well as an external cleaning service for homes and businesses just to help the community to understand, in addition to the air quality monitoring and all of the protective measures we are talking, we want to go the extra mile so people feel comfortable living in their community," Regan said.

RELATED: EPA orders Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminants near train derailment

The EPA said it continues to monitor air quality in the area and is supporting state and local agencies with water testing. Around 600 homes in the town have been screened for contaminants.

"We believe firmly that our testing regiment is protective, and we believe the technology is sound," Regan added.

Kohn believes there is a film of dust inside and outside his home ever since the controlled release. The EPA has said some chemicals and byproducts can be irritants.

"When I leave town my nasal passages will clear up but when I come back into town then they start plugging up again," Kohn said. "I have never had this problem before."

One of the questions presented to the EPA was about the presence of dioxins possibly created by the burning of vinyl chloride.

Dioxins refer to a group of toxic chemical compounds that can persist in the environment for long periods of time, according to the World Health Organization. They are created through combustion and attach to dust particles, which is how they begin to circulate through an ecosystem.

RELATED: Experts examine dioxins, and if they spread after Ohio train derailment

"We have had conversations about dioxin and what they perceive to be potential impact. I'm taking that information back to my team, back to Washington, D.C., and I want folks to know that we've heard them loud and clear on that topic," Regan said.

Regan said the EPA is aware of everything that was on the train and its potential impact on residents and the environment, including dioxins.

"Let me be clear. The EPA is testing for all toxic chemicals. We have a complete inventory of everything that was on that train and everything we're monitoring for and testing for. We understand the levels of potential adverse health impacts from those toxins or any byproducts. There are no gaps in the testing," Regan said.

RELATED: East Palestine residents have drinking water concerns; say pets are their proof

The EPA and Ohio government and health officials have said repeatedly over the previous weeks that testing hasn't shown any contaminants.

"I want to be clear that our testing, air quality testing and the state's water quality testing has not yielded any adverse health impacts that we have seen at this moment. So we're going to be laser-focused on the cleanup and containment to protect the public from any kind of harms and dangers as a result of this train derailment," Regan said.

Kohn feels the damage is already done.

"It's terrible, people's lives have been uprooted," Kohn said.

The derailment

Dozens of cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash on Feb. 3 in East Palestine. Vinyl chloride was later released into the air from five of those cars before crews ignited it to get rid of the highly flammable, toxic chemicals in a controlled environment, creating a dark plume of smoke.

Residents from nearby neighborhoods in Ohio and Pennsylvania were evacuated because of health risks from the fumes but were told on Feb. 8 that it was safe to return home.

The National Transportation Safety Board has since released its initial report on the derailment, stating the train crew tried to stop the train in East Palestine when they received an alert about one of the car's wheel bearings overheating to a critical temperature of over 250 degrees above the ambient temperature.

CLICK HERE to read News 5's continuing coverage of the East Palestine train derailment.

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