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Former EPA Regional Administrator critical of response to East Palestine toxic train derailment

Says dioxin testing should have happened early on
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Posted at 6:33 PM, Mar 10, 2023

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Allegations of missteps and mistakes in the federal EPA’s response to the East Palestine toxic train derailment are coming from someone who’s been in the agency’s top ranks.

The criticism comes as mistrust and anger linger in and around the village.

More than a month after a dark chemical plume billowed over East Palestine, there are signs of resilience. But there are also high demands for baseline medical tests and water many people want to trust to drink.

“We don’t feel that we’re being told the truth, how anything could happen out of this explosion and everything be perfectly fine is beyond me,” said florist Kathleen Unkefer.

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East Palestine florist Kathleen Unkefer isn’t happy with the federal EPA’s response about dioxin testing.

"They're a month late, they're a month late,” Unkefer said.

Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics, served as an EPA Regional Administrator under President Obama.

"I think some significant mistakes were made,” Enck said.

Enck said the evacuation zone should have been larger, and people needed to stay away longer. She also questions whether it was necessary at all to burn the toxic vinyl chloride.

"There should not have been a burn until monitors were set up to measure for dioxins during the burn,” Enck said.

“We don’t believe so,” EPA Response Coordinator Mark Durno said.

Durno said they evaluate the need to sample for dioxins based on what they’re seeing in the monitoring of primary breakdown products of the vinyl chloride, and they were not showing at high levels.

“We didn’t believe any secondary breakdown products would be a cause for concern so we were not looking to sample or monitor for those types of contaminants,” Durno said. Norfolk Southern’s soil sampling plan that the EPA signed off on is now on day two, targeting agricultural and recreational areas.

But East Palestine has seen rain.

"It’s been raining a lot and they're only testing soil and I understand pieces of ash, but good luck finding that after the rain,” Enck said.

“We've had a lot of weather events since the burn. If we find ash or soot we’re going to sample that by itself. We want to see the worst-case scenario,” Durno said.

Durno said the EPA will collect its own samples to ensure the data matches.

“We’re on the ground, we're evaluating all those factors in real-time. There's been a lot of opinions about how this response should have been carried out and when we get to the lessons learned phase months down the road, we can have those discussions,” Durno said.

Despite the heartaches and hardships, residents there are staying strong and determined.

"We definitely are. I'm not going anywhere, there's a lot of us not going anywhere," Unkefer said.

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