Home Emergency Rail disaster's hazardous waste and its health concerns reach far flung disposal...

Rail disaster’s hazardous waste and its health concerns reach far flung disposal sites

After the train derailed in East Palestine, some of the chemicals it was transporting leaked into the surrounding air, soil and water. Norfolk Southern officials released and burned off one particular cancer-causing chemical, vinyl chloride, to avoid an explosion. 

Cleanup efforts continue, and state and federal officials have told area residents that their air and drinking water are safe, even though some have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other problems that medical professionals suspect are linked to chemical exposure. 

Although it is not yet known whether the transport or disposal processes for the contaminated material poses any risk to people nearby, its arrival nonetheless caught some officials off guard in distant states.

“It’s a very real problem; we were told yesterday the materials were coming, only to learn today they’ve been here for a week,” Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo said last week, according to the Associated Press. The county is more than 1,300 miles away from East Palestine.

In Michigan, there were similar concerns.

“The fact that it’s here, and we haven’t been informed of the volume, we haven’t been informed of how it actually got here — Did it come by truck? Did it come by train? Did those transport vehicles, were they well-equipped to be able to deal with this?” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said in a press conference, according to The Hill.

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

For communities such as East Liverpool, the federal agency’s involvement provides little comfort.

“We, over years and years, have been waiting for remedies that don’t come,” said resident Ricardo Gonzalez, who added that he has always wanted to grow fruit and vegetables in his garden for his grandchildren but is too afraid that toxins in the soil could pose a risk. “We’re overlooked.”

East Liverpool Mayor Gregory Bricker said he understood residents’ worries but said he had received reassurance from 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, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Amit Bose, spoke from East Palestine and announced a national initiative to improve rail safety. That effort will focus on track inspections along rail routes where large amounts of hazardous materials are transported. 

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

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