Weak, practically useless testing of a horrific substance at the Norfolk Southern train derailment site outside of East Palestine, Ohio, could mean misery, illnesses and premature deaths in the surrounding communities for generations to come.
That’s what independent chemical pollution researchers who reviewed the dioxin testing protocols around the derailment told the Guardian. The current culprits are dioxins, which are a byproduct of burning chloride and were likely released into the soil and groundwater when cleanup crews burned off vinyl chloride from the wreckage.
Regulators have said further testing being conducted by the Norfolk Southern-funded contractor Arcadis US will provide a broader picture than the initial samples. But, among other problems, the plan relies on what experts characterized as an “unconventional” process to check for dioxins, and the results are “unlikely to give a complete picture”, of contamination in East Palestine, said Stephen Lester, a toxicologist with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
“It is very limited and I don’t think it’s going to answer the questions people in East Palestine have about dioxin exposure and the risk they have from dioxin exposure,” Lester added.
Arcadis noted its plan was developed “in consultation with” the EPA, but, among other concerns, dioxin researchers who reviewed the plan noted:
- Arcadis will largely rely on visual inspections of the ground to find evidence of dioxins, instead of systematically testing soil samples that may contain the compounds, which is standard protocol.
- The plan does not say how low the levels of dioxin the company will check for will be.
- Testing will only be conducted up to two miles from the accident site when ash has been found up to 20 miles away.
- The testing is limited to soil and does not include food or water.
So Arcadis, the company working with Norfolk Southern, plans to look around on the ground and if they don’t actually see the invisible poison, it must not be there, right?
Only, as experts point out, looking for ash on the ground six weeks after the vinyl chloride was burned off isn’t going to give researchers much of a picture of what is happening in the soil and water. Ash will have been blown or washed away by now. Also, testing only the soil, and not the actual food grown in potentially contaminated soil, won’t indicate the presence of the toxin in the most common method of dioxin poisoning.
Of course, if Norfolk Southern hadn’t resisted calls for dioxin testing in the first place — before being forced by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month — they may have gotten a better jump on things. The plan also limits testing to within two miles of the burn site, though ash from the event was reported as far as 20 miles away.
“They need to significantly expand the scope of testing to determine if other environmental media such as farms and bodies of water have dioxin,” one expert told the Guardian.
Initial dioxin testing found levels several hundred times the EPA’s approved limits in the soil surrounding the burn site. The chemical has been linked to cancer, neurological problems, diabetes, heart disease and several other health issues.
The entire story is depressing and terrifying and can be found right here.