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Gov. DeWine says derailed Norfolk Southern train not categorized as carrying high hazardous materials

drone footage of east palestine
Posted at 8:20 PM, Feb 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 09:02:52-05

At a wide-ranging news conference held Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called on the U.S. Congress to look into why the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3 was not categorized as a high hazardous materials train, and said he received assurances from the company’s CEO that they would remain in East Palestine until “absolutely everything was cleaned up.”

You can watch the news conference in its entirety in the player below:

Gov. DeWine gives Feb. 14 update on East Palestine train derailment

Experts from DeWine’s cabinet said that while constant air quality testing has shown that it is basically back to what it was prior to the crash, testing of water downstream from the crash site is showing low levels of two contaminants, and the Ohio EPA is tracking a plume of contaminants traveling down the Ohio River.

DeWine said that he learned Tuesday from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that the train was not considered a high hazardous materials train, and therefore the railroad was not required to notify anyone in Ohio about what was in the railcars, even though some of the cars had hazardous materials on board.

“And while most of them did not, that's why it was not categorized as a high hazardous material train,” DeWine said. “Frankly, if this is true, and I'm told it's true, this is absurd, and we need to look at this, and Congress needs to take a look at how these things are handled. We should know when we have trains carrying hazardous material that are going through the state of Ohio."

DeWine also said that he called Alan Shaw, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, and discussed with him the concerns that he’s hearing from residents.

“I asked him directly if he would personally guarantee — if he would personally guarantee — that the railroad would stay there until absolutely everything was cleaned up,” DeWine said. “He gave me his word and his commitment that the railroad would do that — they would not leave until that was done.”

DeWine also said that he spoke to President Joe Biden, who assured him that he would supply anything needed by the federal government.

Mary Mertz, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, gave an update on the estimate that about 3,500 fish have died across approximately 7.5 miles of streams and tributaries around East Palestine, saying that none of the 12 species of dead fish are protected or endangered, and that there does not appear to be an increase in the number of dead aquatic creatures since the first couple days of derailment.

RELATED: ODNR estimates 3,500 fish killed by East Palestine train derailment, spill

“We don't have any evidence of non-aquatic species suffering from the derailment — haven't had any concerns about that,” Mertz said. “Not only here, but we also communicate with the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well, and they haven't heard about that either.”

When asked again by reporters about reports of dead livestock in the area, Director of Agriculture Brian Baldridge said they have been in communication with folks in the community, and that if they see any symptoms in their livestock, they should first reach out to their local veterinarian.

“To this day, there's nothing that we've seen in the livestock community that causes any concerns,” he said.

As for water pollution around East Palestine and downstream, Sulphur Run remains contaminated, but the state officials are confident that it is contained, according to Ohio EPA Chief Tiffani Kavalec. Data from Feb. 10 showed low levels of two contaminants: butyl acrylate and ethylhexyl acrylate, both volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in Leslie Run, directly below Sulphur Run. Those contaminants dissipate to non-detectable levels after the water flows through Little Beaver Creek, she said.

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The Ohio EPA has not detected any vinyl chloride, one of the primary toxic chemicals of concern that was vented from one of the derailed cars, in Little Beaver Creek or any of downgradient waterways.

“The spill did flow to the Ohio River during that initial slug,” Kavalec said. “But the Ohio River is very large, and it's a water body that's able to dilute the pollutants pretty quickly.”

Officials are tracking a plume of contaminants flowing down the Ohio River in real-time and Kavalec said it is moving at about one mile per hour. She said they stand ready to potentially close off drinking water intakes to allow any chemicals to pass by, as well as using oxidation and advanced water treatment to address contaminants in any drinking water intakes downstream.

Kurt Kohler, also with the Ohio EPA, spoke from East Palestine about their efforts to remove and contain contaminated water and soil around the crash site. He said they have almost a million gallons of water collected and stored in various storage containers, and have excavated pits that are about 700 feet long and 8 feet deep in some areas. He didn’t provide an estimate of what percent of work was complete, but he said he hopes that by next week, most of the daily activity should start to drop off.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, reiterated that all indications show that the air quality in and around East Palestine continues to be safe to breathe, which is why state officials felt comfortable allowing residents back into their homes last week.

And while East Palestine’s municipal water comes from deep wells that are not currently impacted by the contaminants, any residents who are using private wells for water should get their wells tested, and can do so at no cost by calling 330-849-3919.

“Now, we're strongly recommending those who have not yet had their water source checked to use bottled water, and bottled water is being made available,” Vanderhoff said. “Again, same phone number that you can call if you need access to that. This is going to be particularly important if you are pregnant, if you are breastfeeding, or if you are preparing formula for an infant. So we would encourage you to avail yourself of that of that water.”

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

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