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Toxic Train Derailment in East Palestine: EPA Calls on Norfolk Southern to Test for Dioxins, But Some Argue for Their Own Testing

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd sent toxic fumes into the air and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.[0] In the aftermath of this toxic derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered Norfolk Southern to begin testing for dioxins in the soil and released a plan for soil sampling to be carried out by a Norfolk Southern contractor.[1]

However, some are arguing that the EPA should do the testing itself, and should have done it much earlier.[2] Derailments are unfortunately common in the US, with the Federal Railroad Administration showing that in 2022, there were 1,154 such derailments, an average of more than three per day.[3]

The company put in charge of allaying residents’ concerns about health risks is CTEH. In since-deleted marketing on its website, CTEH once explained how the data it gathers about toxic chemicals can be used later to shield its clients from liability.[2] CTEH has been “working side-by-side” with the EPA in East Palestine, “and comparing data collected in the community and in people’s homes to ensure that we are all working with the most accurate data.”[2]

It is uncertain what the conditions were for the test.[2] The EPA confirmed that their representatives have accompanied CTEH to people's residences, supervised the indoor air tests conducted by CTEH, and conducted their own tests simultaneously.[2] An EPA spokesperson said CTEH’s testing protocol “was reviewed and commented on by EPA and state and federal health agencies.”[2]

Several ProPublica interviewees expressed confusion about the connection between CTEH and Norfolk Southern.[2] A Norfolk Southern spokesperson said the company “has been transparent about representing CTEH as a contractor for Norfolk Southern from day one of our response to the incident.”[2]

The 3 February derailment caused a great shift, and the subsequent decision to set off the hazardous materials resulted in a toxic mushroom cloud hovering over the town.[2] In local waterways, decaying fish were seen, and “Pray for EP” messages were visible in many windows.[4] Furniture is piled up on the curbs, with some residents replacing theirs due to contamination concerns.[2]

0. “During East Palestine cleanup, railcars with loose wheels discovered, Norfolk Southern says” CBS News, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/east-palestine-toxic-derailment-railcars-loose-wheels-discovered-norfolk-southern-says/

1. “East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment site cleanup could take years” Grid, 8 Mar. 2023, https://www.grid.news/story/science/2023/03/08/cleanup-of-east-palestine-ohio-train-derailment-site-could-take-years-to-complete

2. “A Norfolk Southern Contractor Is Testing East Palestine Homes — ProPublica” ProPublica, 11 Mar. 2023, https://www.propublica.org/article/east-palestine-ohio-norfolk-southern-cteh

3. “CT railroad operator saw multiple derailments in 2022” CTPost, 11 Mar. 2023, https://www.ctpost.com/business/article/genesee-wyoming-railroad-derail-providence-ct-conn-17824274.php

4. “Norfolk Southern hired the firm testing air in East Palestine homes. Experts warn the checks are lacking” The Guardian US, 11 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/11/norfolk-southern-air-testing-cteh-ohio-train-derailment

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