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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been on web site in East Palestine given that the Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemical substances derailed there final month. Because that time, residents in the neighborhood have reported overall health symptoms, even as agencies like the EPA say their tests have shown no unsafe levels of chemical substances. 

EPA has come below criticism from some scientists for not testing for the appropriate chemical substances. It is also been criticized by U.S. Senator J.D. Vance more than its handling of hazardous waste at the web site. The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier spoke with Mark Durno, the EPA’s onsite coordinator in East Palestine. He asked Durno to clarify the agency’s testing protocols. 

LISTEN to the interview material/uploads/2023/02/AF031723RF_EPAresponse.mp3

Reid Frazier: There’s been a lot of queries about testing of the air, soil and water about East Palestine. Individuals are experiencing symptoms, and but they maintain hearing that the testing reveals levels that seem to be protected. Can you lay out how all of this testing is determined? 

Mark Durno: We’re below what we get in touch with a unified command. And the unified command implies agencies who have duty, who have a stake in what’s taking place, are creating choices and taking action on the ground. And we’ve permitted the railroad, Norfolk Southern, to be portion of that unified command for the reason that it is their house and their duty eventually to make the neighborhood entire once more. 

So there’s monitoring, and there’s sampling going on. But what you are seriously acquiring at is why do we have this discrepancy among what we’re saying in terms of the security of off-web site air releases and the issues that the neighborhood has about lingering overall health challenges. 

So the initially piece of it is we have to comply with sound science. We have action levels for the volatile organic chemical substances that we’ve been monitoring about the web site offsite and in people’s residences. And all to date, the only higher levels of volatile organic chemical substances that we’re seeing given that the evacuation was lifting, is onsite. We’re not seeing something sustained in the neighborhoods. That is the science side of it. 

But then there’s the neighborhood side of it. And, you know, you can not deny what the neighborhood is experiencing. Some of the neighborhood members are experiencing overall health effects. There was a overall health clinic — there nonetheless is a overall health clinic — set up to support residents who have who are getting overall health challenges. The guidance that we give to the neighborhood members is primarily based on science. We have visited residences exactly where residents have seasoned some overall health challenges. We’ve monitored the inside of these residences, and we haven’t observed any volatile organic contaminants in these residences to date.

Now, the exception there of course, is when we enter a dwelling exactly where there’s persons that have been active smoking — cigarettes in the dwelling — we will see some slight uptick of VOCs, which is typical cigarette smoke. But we are not seeing something straight associated to vinyl chloride or the other contaminants of concern. So it is that is a really hard query to answer when it comes to overall health effects for the reason that overall health impacts can be coming from so numerous distinctive sources.

Frazier: So some researchers from Purdue University say that not all the chemical substances that have been detected on web site are essentially getting actively tested for by the EPA and other agencies. Is that correct? And how does the EPA respond to that? 

Durno: I saw the news reports on that. I haven’t observed any written reports or details, so I seriously can not comment on what they think that we’re we are or are not sampling for that could be in conflict with their reports. 

💡NEW Now: We reviewed government air and water chemical testing information and located a significant foundational issue in the previous/ongoing response. @EPA

Agencies are not testing for the similar chemical substances.

This inhibits choices to defend #publichealth.

Course right necessary.


— Andrew Whelton 🔥💧❄️🌪 (@TheWheltonGroup) March 13, 2023

Frazier: These Purdue researchers say that a single point that is been located in the air but hasn’t been tested in the water is the hazardous chemical acrolein. Are you testing for that? 

Durno: So we are testing for the acrolein loved ones of chemical substances. Once again, I haven’t observed any reports from them. I do not know that EPA has observed reports. And that is seriously really hard for us to comment on that. 

But we are we have been seeking at acroleins and acrylates. Ohio EPA has the major oversight part on all the function that is going on in the rivers. And I comprehend that the Purdue function was accomplished with respect to the waterways that have been impacted. So we can verify in with the Ohio EPA on the complete extent of their sampling, their water monitoring and so forth. 

Frazier: Norfolk Southern has hired an environmental consulting firm, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Well being, which was known as by ProPublica, the go-to contractor for corporations accountable for industrial disasters, and which has been accused, quote, of repeatedly downplaying overall health dangers. Now, CTA is performing testing for Norfolk Southern. Does this concern you as far as providing the public self-assurance in the final results of testing? 

Durno: So the organization that is in query, we see them on web sites like this all the time. We’ve accomplished a lot of, regrettably a lot of railroad disasters or train derailments. They have a host of air monitoring gear and personnel who have the similar talent sets that we have. So from a ground monitoring standpoint, I think that the information that they’re making, for the reason that we’re overseeing that information, is good quality information. 

Frazier: Can you update us on the soil cleanup? We have Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, a Republican, criticizing the EPA for not acquiring contaminated soil off the web site promptly adequate. He’s also accused the administration of stopping shipment of waste to Michigan for the reason that Democratic elected officials there had objected to it. What is taking place with the waste, and is there any truth to Senator Vance’s allegations? 

Durno: Material is moving offsite. The organization lastly got a contract in location with a disposal facility to commence sending considerable amounts of material offsite. So you are going to start off to see trucks moving much more and much more every single day. 

You asked about what occurred in Michigan. We’ve had numerous disposal facilities ask us to pause operations. Some of that was due to some of the queries that we have been acquiring from elected officials. The explanation that we stopped was for the reason that there was a concern about the level of chemical evaluation that was accomplished on the waste piles. So to alleviate fears and issues, we asked for further sampling to be carried out, which it was. 

We have been in a position to clearly demonstrate that the level of contamination was acceptable for the variety of disposal that was taking place. And now trucks are moving once more. We are nonetheless hopeful that the organization can get some much more contracts in location with other facilities and in some of the other states. 

You pointed out Michigan. We’re hoping Oklahoma opens up. But once more, we’ll see how that goes among the organization and the facilities. And of course, in all of our states, the elected leaders want to make certain that what’s coming to their states is acceptable for the disposal getting carried out. 

Frazier: I imply, just to place a finer point on it, did the Democratic elected officials in Michigan hold any larger sway on this choice-creating than other states? 

Durno: I can not think that. But at my level, I do not know the answer. 

Mark Durno is U.S. EPA’s onsite coordinator in East Palestine, Ohio. 

Note: The Ohio EPA, the state agency there, stated in an e mail that it is seeking closely at what’s been detected in surface water and released at the derailment web site and is adjusting its list of chemical substances to test for as new details comes in.

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