Background on the Derailment
On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. Hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, spilled and liquids remaining in some of the tanker cars were burned, ostensibly to reduce the risk of an explosion.
Multiple health and environmental hazards resulted from the derailment, including toxic emissions from the fire, contamination in nearby waterways that is believed to have killed fish and other aquatic life, and concerns about the safety of the community’s drinking water.
The U.S. EPA has assumed control of the emergency response and clean-up actions at the site. The agency has established an emergency response website with more information on the train derailment and release of hazardous materials to the environment surrounding East Palestine. Among the toxic materials being sampled for are vinyl chloride, oil and gasoline compounds, various volatile organic compounds, and benzene. The EPA site has air, water, and soil sampling results. There is also a concern about dioxins being released from the burning of vinyl chloride.
The EPA issued a directive to Norfolk Southern on Friday, February 24th to accelerate the cleanup of the train derailment site. Under this February 24th directive, waste disposal plans, including disposal location and transportation routes for contaminated waste, are subject to EPA review and approval moving forward. This directive is an important step in the transition from a state-led emergency response phase to an EPA-led cleanup phase.
How Indiana is Involved
Two elements of the derailment and related pollution affect Indiana. First, the plume of water contamination has reached the Ohio River and is flowing downstream, bringing it past Indiana and potentially affecting drinking water sources for several Indiana communities. Second, contaminated soils from the train derailment site are being shipped by truck to Indiana’s only licensed commercial hazardous waste landfill in Roachdale, Indiana (Putnam County).
About the Roachdale Landfill
Heritage Environmental Services operates the Roachdale landfill, which stores hazardous waste. An Indianapolis Star article reported on past environmental violations at the landfill. See violation information from the EPA. On Wednesday, March 1st, Heritage Environmental Services hosted a community meeting about the waste shipments. News reports revealed significant local concerns about the waste shipments.
In a February 28th statement, Governor Holcomb formally objected to the transport and disposal of the contaminated soils in Indiana. On Thursday, March 2nd, he ordered that the soils being shipped here be tested by an independent laboratory. On March 7th, the EPA agreed to put a pause on shipments of the contaminated soils to Indiana until dioxin testing was completed.
U.S. Senator Braun and Congressman Baird sent a letter opposing contaminated waste from the Ohio Derailment being brought to Putnam County.
On March 8th, third-party tester Pace Labs released their dioxin testing ordered by Governor Holcomb. Pace Labs concluded that the initial shipment of contaminated soils did not contain harmful levels of dioxins compared to U.S. EPA acceptable levels. According to the U.S. EPA, any further materials from the East Palestine crash will undergo dioxin testing before arriving in Indiana. Governor Holcomb will continue to order third-party dioxin testing of any and all subsequent materials from the East Palestine crash site. (IDEM, 2023)
The Indianapolis Star has been following the story closely – check out their reporting and additional resources below.
HEC’s Tim Maloney states that stronger safety standards are long overdue. “There are a lot of incidents that are happening; over 800 in 2022 in the United States, of derailments, 447 cars involved were hazardous material railcars. So, it’s a serious concern.” Read more of the article by clicking here.