Ohio Derailment Waste Sparks Health Concerns Up To 1,300 Miles

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — For 30 years, this small town along the Ohio River has been home to the Heritage Thermal Services incinerator, a controversial hazardous waste facility that has been cited for multiple violations and faced numerous lawsuits. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a report that the heritage site had repeatedly exposed the community to chemicals that can cause cancer and miscarriage.

The facility has denied any wrongdoing and has continued to operate, and is now receiving toxic waste from last month’s Norfolk Southern train derailment in eastern Palestine, 20 miles away.

“I think at some point the powers that be are like, ‘You know, they’ve had it forever. We’re just going to put this out there instead of polluting a new community,'” said Amanda Kiger, 49, who added that she had cancer twice and knew many other people in the area who were also diagnosed. “They’re piling it on us.”

The February 3 rail disaster has raised health concerns not only in eastern Palestine, but also in places that have begun accepting shipments of contaminated soil and water from the site of the derailment. By Wednesday, about 1.8 million gallons of hazardous liquid sewage and 700 tons of solid waste had been transported out of eastern Palestine, according to the Ohio EPA. Materials traveled to Michigan and Texas for disposal.

In a statement, Heritage Thermal Services (formerly known as Waste Technologies Industries) said it was “providing on-site assistance in accordance with the cleanup plan approved by relevant government agencies in response to the event” .

“HTS is ready to do its part to help protect the human health and the environment of its eastern Palestinian neighbors,” the statement added.

The Heritage Thermal Services incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, one of the few sites across the country where toxic waste from the East Palestine train derailment was shipped.BNC News

After the train derailed in eastern Palestine, some of the chemicals it was carrying spilled into the surrounding air, soil and water. Norfolk Southern officials released and burned a particular cancer-causing chemical, vinyl chloride, to prevent an explosion.

Cleanup efforts are continuing, and state and federal officials have told area residents that their air and drinking water are safe, though some have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other issues that health care professionals health suspect to be related to exposure to chemicals.

While it is not yet known whether the processes of transporting or disposing of the contaminated material pose a risk to those nearby, its arrival nevertheless caught some officials in distant states off guard.

“It’s a very real problem; we were told yesterday the documents were coming in, only to learn today that they’ve been here for a week,” Judge Lina Hidalgo said in Harris County, Texas last week, according to The Associated Press. . The county is over 1,300 miles east of Palestine.

In Michigan, there were similar concerns.

“The fact that he’s here, and we haven’t been told the volume, we haven’t been told how he actually got here – did he come by truck? Did he come by train? Were these transport vehicles well equipped to deal with this? Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said at a press conference, according to The Hill.

Over the weekend, the EPA ordered that hazardous waste shipments be temporarily halted. The move came days after the agency took control of cleanup efforts, allowing it to require Norfolk Southern to clean up the area to its specifications, rather than allowing the company to do so voluntarily. .

For communities like East Liverpool, the federal agency’s involvement brings little comfort.

“We’ve been waiting for years and years for cures that don’t come,” said Ricardo Gonzalez, a resident, who added that he always wanted to grow fruits and vegetables in his garden for his grandchildren. but that he was too afraid that the toxins in the soil might pose a risk. “We are forgotten.”

East Liverpool Mayor Gregory Bricker said he understood residents’ concerns, but said he had been reassured by the federal and Ohio EPAs.

“They assure me that the site can handle it,” he told NBC News.

New calls for rail safety

On Wednesday, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose spoke from eastern Palestine and announced a national initiative to improve rail safety. This effort will focus on track inspections along rail tracks where large quantities of hazardous materials are transported.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled the Rail Safety Act of 2023, which would tighten requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials and increase the frequency of rail car inspections.

A Pennsylvania family inspects the wreckage of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 19, 2023.
A family inspects the wreckage of the Norfolk Southern train derailment on February 19.Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg welcomed the bill, saying on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that it was time to “stand up to the rail industry lobby and do something about it.”

He added that the health of residents near the train derailment remains a top priority.

“The state is even doing mental health work because whether or not someone has symptoms that are directly physically attributable to that, we know that a lot of people, just because of that upheaval and trauma, are facing to things they need and deserve. health support,” Buttigieg said.

Residents of towns that accepted hazardous materials from the derailment say they also hope to receive help.

“I would ask the community, state regulators, our senators or representatives: don’t forget, I repeat, don’t forget this area,” Gonzalez said, his voice cracking. “I have anxiety. It’s depressing.”

Gabe Gutierrez and Halle Lukasiewicz reported from East Liverpool, Ohio. Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.

Ohio Derailment Waste Sparks Health Concerns Up To 1,300 Miles

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