Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Environmental Protection announced that it will require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins in East Palestine following a train derailment that happened last month.
The agency said that if the railroad discovers any dioxins at a "level that poses any unacceptable risks to human health and the environment, the EPA will direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed."
This follows the EPA's previous order holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the derailment. The EPA said it will continue to oversee the ongoing cleanup efforts.
Additionally, the agency will "continue sampling for 'indicator chemicals,' which based on test results to date, suggest a low probability for release of dioxin from this incident."
What are dioxins?
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.
Checking for dioxins
The EPA broke down its approach regarding checking for dioxins and what it has found so far:
- Focused on sampling and analysis for “indicator chemicals” such as chlorobenzenes and chlorophenols that would suggest the potential for the release of dioxins attributable to the derailment.
- EPA is currently analyzing for 19 chlorobenzene and chlorophenol compounds in the area of East Palestine.
- As of February 28, EPA has collected at least 115 samples in the potentially impacted area, which include samples of air, soils, surface water, and sediments.
- To date, EPA’s monitoring for indicator chemicals has suggested a low probability for release of dioxin from this incident.
- EPA’s air has detected only low levels of 1,4-dichlorobenzene typical of ambient background concentrations.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan provided the following statement:
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve sat with East Palestine residents and community leaders in their homes, businesses, churches, and schools. I’ve heard their fears and concerns directly, and I’ve pledged that these experiences would inform EPA’s ongoing response efforts. In response to concerns shared with me by residents, EPA will require Norfolk Southern to sample directly for dioxins under the agency’s oversight and direct the company to conduct immediate clean up if contaminants from the derailment are found at levels that jeopardize people’s health. This action builds on EPA’s bipartisan efforts alongside our local, state, and federal partners to earn the trust of this community and ensure all residents have the reassurances they need to feel safe at home once again.”
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.
RELATED: EPA officials highlight 'ongoing response efforts' during visit to East Palestine
Regan visited East Palestine earlier this week 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.
Watch more about his visit in the player below:
CLICK HERE to read more about the East Palestine train derailment.
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