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EPA Reveals Toxic ‘Plume of Chemicals’ Moving Down Ohio River, Raising Fears of Ecological Disaster

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday provided an update on the chemical fallout from the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and ecological disaster.

“There is a plume [of chemicals] moving down the Ohio River,” said Tiffani Kavalec, the head of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s water management subdivision. “It’s near Huntington, West Virginia, right now.”

Kavalec said that the plume is composed mainly of “fire combustion chemicals.” There may also be multiple “volatile organic compounds” carried on the train in the Ohio River but are “very diluted,” she added.

Local news station WLWT reported on Monday that small amounts of the chemicals had been identified in the Ohio River, which winds through or borders Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It supplies more than 5 million people with drinking water. States hundreds of miles away are evaluating its drinking water for the presence of toxic chemicals.

However, the latest reports on Wednesday contradict the earlier assessments.

“No contaminants were found in the Ohio River after Greater Cincinnati Water Works tested it for multiple hazardous chemicals,” WXIX reported.

“According to the Water Quality of Richard Miller Treatment Plant Intake data, all four chemicals were not detected in the Ohio River, including butyl acrylate and vinyl chloride,” the report added.

The Norfolk Southern train derailed on February 3rd. Fifty rail cars containing various toxic chemicals were overturned. New drone footage obtained by Rebel News shows an overview of the train wreck.

Emergency response teams performed a “controlled burn” of a particularly noxious chemical known as vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogen with a relatively low boiling point.

Norfolk Southern is owned by a number of major investment firms, including BlackRock, Vanguard, and JP Morgan Chase. In 2017, the rail company successfully lobbied the U.S. government to do away with mandatory safety regulations, such as pneumatic breaks and minimum staffing requirements. The rail company had recently lobbied the government to maintain these lax safety regulations.

“Before this weekend’s fiery Norfolk Southern train derailment prompted emergency evacuations in Ohio, the company helped kill a federal safety rule aimed at upgrading the rail industry’s Civil War-era braking systems,” according to documents reviewed by The Lever. According to the report, the train was not being regulated as a “high-hazard flammable train.”

At the same time as it was lobbying for the lax safety rules, Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks, even as it shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing would increase safety risks. Norfolk Southern officials also fought off a shareholder initiative that would have required executives to “assess, review, and mitigate risks of hazardous material transportation.”

The EPA in a letter identified a number of toxic chemicals released into the air and water due to the Norfolk Southern train derailment.

“Cars containing vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether are known to have been and continue to be released to the air, surface soils, and surface waters,” the letter said.

The following are the basic characteristics of the above-mentioned chemicals.

  • Vinyl chloride: a colorless gas that is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and is highly flammable and decomposes to make toxic fumes. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is also carcinogenic and can cause other health issues.
  • Butyl acrylate: a clear liquid that is used for making paints, sealants and adhesives. It is flammable and can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Ethylhexyl acrylate: a colorless liquid used to make paints and plastics. It can cause skin and respiratory irritation and, under moderate heat, can produce hazardous vapor.
  • Ethylene glycol monobutyl: a colorless liquid used as a solvent for paint and inks, as well as some dry cleaning solutions. It is classed as acutely toxic, able to cause serious or permanent injury, and highly flammable. Vapors can irritate the eyes and nose, and ingestion can cause headaches and vomiting.

In addition to water quality concerns, there is also the issue of air quality hazards. Vinyl chloride, according to the New Jersey EPA, “is a CARCINOGEN in humans. There may be no safe level of exposure to a carcinogen, so all contact should be reduced to the lowest possible level.”

After the train derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been testing the air quality, including for traces of vinyl chloride. OSHA has set “the legal airborne permissible exposure limit” to 1 ppm during an eight-hour work period or no more than five ppm “during any 15-minute work period.”

The EPA has not reported levels above its threshold of 0.5 ppm in the area. On 13 February, one sensor picked up an average concentration of 0.2 ppm, with an additional two recording a lower concentration of0.05 ppm during the testing window. Air quality reports taken on February 10 and 11 found an average concentration of 0.3 ppm in some areas.

In its latest dispatch, the EPA states that “as of February 14, EPA has assisted with the screening of 396 homes under a voluntary screening program offered to residents, and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified. 65 additional homes are scheduled for today. We are continuing to conduct 24/7 air-monitoring to ensure the health and safety of residents.”

However, even after being told that it is safe to return home, local residents are concerned about local fish, wildlife, and livestock dying in alarming numbers.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the chemical spill has killed an estimated 3,500 small fish across 7.5 miles of streams, as of Wednesday.

One resident of North Lima, about 10 miles from East Palestine, told WKBN-TV of Youngstown that her five hens and rooster died suddenly in the aftermath of the chemical burn. Others have shared similar stories in the wake of the disaster.

“Don’t tell me it’s safe. Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek,” said Cathey Reese, who lives in Negley, Ohio, told NBC affiliate WPXI of Pittsburgh last week.

Jenna Giannios, 39, a wedding photographer in nearby Boardman, told NBC News she has had a persistent cough for the past week and a half. Other area residents have reported itchy eyes and skin, as well as vomiting.

“They only evacuated only 1 mile from that space, and that’s just insane to me,” she said, coughing throughout the conversation. “I’m concerned with the long-term heath impact. It’s just a mess.”

There are other Ohio residents concerned about the long-term impact from the ecological disaster on the agricultural industry. Many local farmers believe there may be residual effects from the disaster for years to come. There are reports that Norfolk Southern is offering $1000 “inconvenience” fees that attorneys worry may be a cynical attempt to limit its liability.

While environmental activists and the mainstream media have been relatively subdued about the threat posed by the ecological catastrophe, Americans are concerned about deteriorating infrastructure leading to more such disasters.

It was a problem that was supposed to be addressed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that was signed into law last fall. It turns out, that was more of a green slush fund than an “infrastructure” bill. Over one trillion dollars of the funding went for the “Green New Deal.” And as residents in Ohio and surrounding states are finding out, in return the U.S. government gave them a raw deal.


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