In the past few weeks following the February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, efforts to rid the surrounding area of toxic chemicals have been underway. In response to an immediate threat of a deadly explosion, crews released 115,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into a nearby trench on February 6, where it was then burned.
Currently, the toxic waste remains on site in the form of contaminated water and soil, but lower levels have marked this time period as a transition from the emergency response phase to the remediation phase. Still, gallons of firefighting water from the explosion and tonnes of defiled soil are being shipped out of Ohio for disposal.
Vinyl chloride is an extremely hazardous chemical with the ability to cause cancer, reproductive issues, and other serious health problems to those exposed. As such, it is key that all waste is disposed of promptly and properly.
As is protocol, the responsibility of hazardous waste disposal falls directly on Norfolk Southern, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the process to ensure proper clean-up. Together, they approved sending 20 truckloads of waste from the derailment site to a disposal site in Michigan.
Similar shipments also arrived in Texas, much to the surprise of government officials in both states. In Michigan and Texas, state officials are reporting having received no warning of the East Palestine waste arriving in their jurisdictions, so the EPA has halted all shipments until all Norfolk Southern plans for disposal have been reviewed.
Part of the issue with disposal is the fact that there are very few waste wells across the country that accept the disposal of off-site waste, with Texas and Louisiana being home to the majority. Regardless, locals and officials are unhappy with the lack of communication and worry about the repercussions.
In addition to complaints about the smell, residents of neighbouring cities worry about the health implications of such significant disposal. The wells run thousands of feet deep, and they are designed to contain waste for at least 10,000 years; however, these practices are new, and their long-term effects cannot be fully understood.
With limited options for disposal, it is hard to say what adjustments will be made, if any, to the current course of action.
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