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EPA opens office in East Palestine; concerns raised over hazardous waste shipments from derailment site

Truckload shipments of contaminated soil and liquid waste from the train derailment site were temporarily paused over the weekend.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The EPA opened a storefront office in East Palestine Tuesday meant to help bridge what the EPA’s administrator Michael Regan called a “deficit of trust” with community members who have concerns over the long-term environmental and health impacts of the derailment.

It’s happening as elected leaders in Michigan, Texas, Indiana and Ohio have expressed concern and opposition to shipments of hazardous waste from the derailment site.

Truckload shipments of contaminated soil and liquid waste from the train derailment site were temporarily paused over the weekend after concerns were raised from states where the materials were being sent.

On Tuesday, Indiana’s governor Eric Holcomb tweeted that he continues to “object to the EPA administrator’s decision… to move hazardous waste… to Indiana.”

At least three facilities in Ohio and one in Indiana are now being used to dispose of large amounts of contaminated soil and liquid waste leftover from the Feb. 3 derailment.

A preliminary report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board found that heat indicators detected the Norfolk Southern train’s wheel bearings were heating up miles before the train derailed. The derailment caused a fire – and officials later agreed to a controlled release of chemicals – including vinyl chloride.

Both community members and local, state and federal officials have been critical of Norfolk Southern, which is paying for the cleanup.

EPA administrator Michael Regan was back in East Palestine, Ohio Tuesday – his third visit since the derailment – to announce the opening of the EPA storefront office which is designed to answer community members questions. It’s located on East Market Street in East Palestine and will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help address residents’ concerns.

Air monitoring and water testing continues, but a regional EPA administrator aid Tuesday they have found "no exceedances” above normal limits.

EPA administrator Michael Regan was asked by reporters about the shipments of hazardous waste:

There are facilities in Ohio – and all over the country – that are heavily regulated and permitted to take this kind of waste. What we are doing is working on alert system so that NS can be held accountable and as this material is moving, the appropriate authorities have the appropriate information so that the communities are not alarmed and that their safety has been taken seriously,” he said.

10 Investigates was there last week as truckloads of the hazardous waste was being loaded up . It’s been shipped to at least three facilities in Ohio as well – including one in Sandusky County.

Sandusky’s EMA Director, Lisa Kuelling, where some of the shipments of hazardous waste are being shipped said I personally wish we had been given a couple of days’” notice so that she could do educational outreach to citizens to quell their concerns.

Kuelling said her concerns were quelled however, after learning was most of the materials being shipped in her county involved overflow water from firefighters’ foam -- used to combat the fire after the train derailed.

Scott Mcaleer witnessed the derailment. He lives just a few houses away from where chemicals like vinyl chloride spilled.

Three weeks later, he has the same concerns as many we spoke to – fear of the unknown of long term effects.

“Everybody wants answers. I want answers. Is it safe for my kids. My neighbor my dog my cat.

But we can’t get it,” he said.

But the EPA is not currently testing for dioxins - a harmful pollutant that occurs when vinyl chloride is burned.

The EPA administrator said this when asked:

“We have put in the testing that is protective of the community as I have said before – I understand the questions surrounding dioxins.

I want folks to understand we hear them loud and clear and understand those concerns,” Regan said.

On Wednesday, attorneys and experts suing Norfolk Southern will get the chance to more closely inspect the derailment site.

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