Levels of carcinogenic chemical near Ohio derailment site far above safe limit

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recently released statistics Shows soil in the Ohio town of East Palestine – the scene of a recent devastating train accident and chemical spill – contains dioxin levels hundreds of times higher than the exposure limits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists had in 2010 found poses cancer risk,

EPA at that time Proposed Lowering the cleanup limit to reflect the science surrounding the highly toxic chemical, but the Obama administration killed the rules, and the higher federal action limit remains.

Norfolk Southern hired the firm test air on houses in East Palestine. Experts warn there is a shortage of checks


Although dioxin levels in East Palestine are below federal action limits and an EPA administrator told Congress last week that the levels are “very low,” chemical experts including former EPA officials who reviewed the data for the Guardian called them “concerning.” ” Said.

The levels found in the two soil samples are also 14 times higher than dioxin soil limits in some states, and the numbers point to widespread contamination, said Linda Birnbaum, former head of the US National Toxicology Program and EPA scientist.

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“The levels are not screaming high, but we have confirmed that dioxins are in the soil of East Palestine,” she said. “The EPA should be testing the soil in the area more extensively.”

Experts say the data confirms fears that controlled burning of vinyl chloride in the city in the days following the train wreck created dioxin and spread across the region, although they stressed that the new data are of limited value. This is because only two soil samples were checked.

The train crash in East Palestine and its toxic consequences have become a major issue in the US, with locals and activists condemning the lack of action by both the government and the train operator, Norfolk Southern. The state of Ohio has now sued the rail giant over the derailment, calling it one of a “long string” of incidents involving the company.

Dioxins are a class of chemicals that are a byproduct of the burning of chlorine, a common industrial process in making products such as PVC.

The chemicals are highly persistent and can accumulate in the environment or human body and remain for years. Among other health issues, the compound has been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, nervous system disorders and other serious health problems. Soil and food contamination is considered one of the most common exposure routes.

After weeks of resisting calls to test for dioxin, the EPA announced on March 3 that it would order Norfolk Southern to do so. Separately, Indiana last week began testing East Palestine soil because one of the state’s landfills is storing it. This test was described by Birnbaum as a reputable laboratory.

EPA contractors collect soil and air samples from the site of the March 9 derailment. Photograph: Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, Said The levels found in the soil “were not harmful”. Meanwhile, during Congressional testimony on March 9, EPA Administrator Debra Shore described the dioxin levels found in Indiana as “very low” and “good news”.

But while the EPA may claim the levels are “low” from a legal perspective, the agency’s own science suggests they are not safe, and dioxin experts who spoke with the Guardian doubt Shore and Holcomb’s assessment.

Regulators 2,3,7,8 establish the toxicity of dioxins in a soil sample by calculating the “toxicological equivalence” of all dioxins in the soil compared to the most toxic dioxin compound called TCDD. Soils from East Palestine showed levels of “2,3,7,8 TCDD toxicity equivalents” of 700 parts per trillion (ppt). The level at which the EPA will initiate cleanup action in residential areas is 1,000 ppt.

However, many states have very low cleanup triggers – 90 ppt in Michiganand 50 ppt in California,

“So based on that, the concentrations are really related,” said Carsten Prause, an organic chemist at Johns Hopkins University and scientific advisor to SimpleLab. Federal cleaning standards of 1,000 ppt apply in Ohio.

In addition, in 2010 EPA scientists set the cancer risk limit for dioxin in residential soils at 3.7 ppt, and the agency recommended lowering the cleanup trigger to 72 ppt.

“When you run the numbers and do your best-of-the-art risk calculation, that’s the number you get for cancer risk,” said Stephen Lester, a toxicologist who has researched dioxins for 40 years and is director of science for Are. Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “This is why dioxin has been described as one of the most toxic chemicals ever created.”

Lester said that the rules were ultimately killed “for political reasons”. He said the potential for exposure to that level of dioxin is widespread, and making changes would create consequences that would be extremely difficult for the government to manage.

“Instead of adjusting for the high exposure to these chemicals, they dropped it, they just moved away from it, and that’s the crazy part of this story,” Lester said. Now the EPA can legally claim that the levels in East Palestine are safe, even though agency science has suggested it is not.

The EPA did not respond to specific questions from the Guardian, but in a statement the agency doubled down on its assessment.

A spokesperson wrote, “Available data, analyzed and validated by an independent laboratory, shows waste from East Palestine that went to Indiana does not contain harmful levels of dioxins.”

Experts also cautioned that the levels may be safe for Indiana’s purpose – storing toxic waste in a landfill – and unsafe in terms of public exposure to chemicals surrounding the accident site.

It is also unclear where and at what depth the samples were collected, Prase said, all of which has implications for potential health risks in East Palestine. He said the chemicals would present a risk especially to dust and to children playing in gardens or outside. Several houses are within feet of the debris site.

“My main concern is this: is this a reflection of the level of the area in East Palestine … and the level of exposure individuals living near the rail are?” Prase said. “I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable living there.”

In addition, if the soil that Indiana tested was shipped into the state in a truck or train car, it was mixed with other soil and potentially diluted enough to make the soil appear safe. could, and would hide the center of attraction on the ground. , Birnbaum said.

She noted that the results revealed a wide range of dioxins, which suggests that the chemicals were built up in the vinyl chloride burn. Although dioxins are often present throughout the atmosphere at low levels, especially in industrialized areas such as East Palestine, background profiles are generally limited to low levels of dioxins, Birnbaum said.

In the 1980s, the EPA exit In Times Beach, Missouri, dioxin levels in the soil were found to exceed 1,000 ppt after city streets were sprayed with chemicals to prevent the spread of dust.

Experts who have begun a review of Norfolk Southern’s plan to test for dioxin are already raising concerns about its design, and say the EPA may fear a repeat of Times Beach.

“To keep people in the area safe, you really need to know where the dioxin came from, where the wind carried it, where it was deposited, and where the area with the heaviest levels is,” Birnbaum said.

Levels of carcinogenic chemical near Ohio derailment site far above safe limit

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