EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — East Palestine residents like Zsucsa Gyenes are hoping the U.S. EPA will continue to follow up on air, water and soil testing in their community for the long-run, following the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment.
Gyenes, her boyfriend Brian Crossman, and her 5-year-old son, have been staying in a local hotel for nearly a month. She said she's been unable to return to her rental home due to health concerns.
“They were supposed to do a second test with our air, because we got a test the first time, they said it was okay, but we’re still getting very, very sick. There’s still a strong chemical smell in there," Gyenes said. “It’s really awful. I tried to go back a few times, and I just get so sick. My son and I got pretty sick the first night of the derailment, actually.”
Gyenes said she has been closely following EPA test results online, which so far have shown no health concerns, but she's hoping there will be testing conducted by other agencies to back up the EPA results. Gyenes pointed to a mobile lab put together by Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon Universities, which took air samples last week, and should post results by mid-March.
“The EPA is putting a lot of this information on its websites, but it’s really hard to find, it’s really hard to understand,” Gyenes said. "And what Texas A&M did, they kind of just made it show what these numbers actually mean, and it’s not good.”
Texas A&M Professor Weihsueh Chiu, who said he worked with the EPA for 14 years, told News 5 his team took EPA test results and put them into context when comparing results for chemicals like Acrolein. Chiu said when compared against levels found across the country, the results indicate some concern.
“In many different situations, people will relate numbers without putting them in context," Chiu said. “The peak that we found in the data was about 40 times higher than what’s considered safe for long-term exposure to Acrolein, which is an irritant from production of combustion. The highest county in the United States according to the EPA analysis, the ratio was like 6."
Chiu told News 5 testing should also continue to concentrate on trying to identify chemical hotspots and areas that could later yield air and water contamination.
“Some of the levels were high, and that if those levels were sustained, it would potentially cause problems in the long term, and so the EPA should not stop monitoring. I don’t think they have any intention of stopping," he said.
Chiu also mentioned to look for hotspots in the testing.
“If there’s hotspots, to try and find out what the source of that is, because if there is contaminated water, contaminated soil, that could be an ongoing source of emissions into the air.”
On Feb. 28, U.S. EPA Administrator Debra Shore announced the deployment of its Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA) mobile laboratory, which will conduct real-time air monitoring.
“Which will conduct real-time air monitoring and sampling analysis during waste removal," Shore said. "This means we don’t have to send samples away for analysis. We can analyze them right here in the bus.”
But Northeast Ohio lab expert Anthony Dattilo, who's is the owner of Enviromatrix Consulting, told News 5 he has concerns about the sensitivity of the testing equipment being used. Dattilo believes the PID monitors being used by the EPA may not be able to detect all airborne chemicals released during the controlled burn.
“I don’t know that you can say it’s safe when you don’t know everything that is out in the air," Dattilo said. "The PID meter is not sensitive to everything that’s exposed out there. It’s not sensitive to phosgene. It’s not sensitive to hydrogen chloride.”
Dattilo believes East Palestine area homeowners living near the train derailment site should be given water filtration units to ensure the safety of both well and city water. He said it's imperative that water testing continues over the long term.
“It’s something that you’re going to have to test for years until you know what’s in the soil," Dattilo said. "You can’t say a well is clean, because it may be clean now, the sample may come back clean, but six weeks from now it may not be, six months from now it may not be, a year from now it may not be."
CLICK HERE to read more of News 5's extensive coverage of the East Palestine train derailment.
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