“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,” Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
EPA’s order also came the same day President Joe Biden said he will visit the stricken village “at some point.”
Because of dioxins’ ubiquity and the long time they last in the environment before breaking down, EPA said it ordered the railroad to conduct a study of dioxin levels in parts of East Palestine not affected by the derailment to compare to affected sites.
The agency said it is also reviewing Norfolk Southern’s draft plan to use advanced laboratory technologies to identify a dioxin “fingerprint” when testing soil. If it can be developed, the agency said it may be able to tell if certain dioxins came from the crash or were already present.
However, in making the announcement, EPA also downplayed the risk. Agency testing for 19 “indicator chemicals” that can suggest whether dioxins were released “has suggested a low probability for release of dioxin from this incident,” EPA said in a press release.
Ohio Sens. Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican J.D. Vance in a letter last month urged EPA and state authorities to test for dioxins.
River Valley Organizing, a local nonprofit that has advocated for dioxin testing, praised EPA’s order.
“While this is a good first step, there is still so much more the East Palestine community needs from the Norfolk Southern, the EPA, and other state and federal agencies,” RVO Co-Executive Director Amanda Kiger said in a statement. “Folks need relocation and safe housing, independent testing they can trust, and ongoing medical monitoring — all paid for by Norfolk Southern.”
She added they are urging EPA to stop sending contaminated soil to be burned at an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, about 17 miles south of East Palestine.