Initially, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not testing for dioxins in the environment after the East Palestine train derailment and vinyl chloride release.
“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have baseline information in this area to do a proper test. But, we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it,” said EPA Region 5 administrator Debra Shore.
Scientist Stephen Lester said the EPA provided a “lame excuse.”
Dioxins refer to a group of toxic chemical compounds. Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.
“I think they’re reluctant to test, because they know they will find it, and they will be put in a place where they have to address it,” said Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
Lester says exposure to dioxins can lead to severe types of cancer.
“The level of dioxin that gets into a body, a person, an animal, a cow, that could lead to health problems is extraordinarily low. It does not take very much,” Lester said. “I’d be very concerned if I had a farm, especially if I was aware, as some people described in that meeting, that the black cloud from the burning had settle onto their property.”
Dioxins can take decades to fully break down and dissolve. Once released, they can settle on surfaces, plants, in water and in soil. Lester says he would be concerned with the amount of farmland and livestock in Columbiana County.
However, the EPA is now ordering Norfolk Southern to test for the highly-toxic pollutant.
The move comes after a heated town hall where East Palestine residents confronted government and Norfolk Southern officials.
One month after the hazardous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, residents confronted government and Norfolk Southern officials in a heated town hall. The EPA is ordering the company to test for dioxins, a toxic pollutant. @MonaKAbdi has more. https://t.co/nW12JaZVjA pic.twitter.com/itVW2Bie96
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) March 4, 2023
How can East Palestine residents rely on tests from Norfolk Southern to accurately measure the level of dioxins in the environment?
In addition to residents reporting physical ailments since the train derailment, the cleanup crew has reportedly become sick from the toxic environment.
East Palestine Derailment Cleanup Crew Becoming Sick From Toxic Environment
Stephen Lester made further comments on the toxicity of dioxins.
“Its toxicity is remarkable in its breadth of effects that it can cause. It is one of the most potent and is often described as the most, one of the most potent carcinogens ever tested in our country,” he said.
That’s how Lester describes dioxins. He is a Harvard-educated chemist who has been an activist for 42 years, starting at Love Canal in New York. He says he wants to see a testing plan that lays out exactly how, where and what they are testing for.
“There’s a standard suite of 17 dioxins and furans that I would expect is what they would look for,” Lester said.
He also wants to see testing for a wider spread of chemicals because he says more chemicals would have been created during the burning process.
“The most toxic is a chemical with the acronym TCDD, which stands for tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. It is the element that was found in Agent Orange that made Agent Orange so toxic,” Lester said.
Recently, Lester sat on a panel for River Valley Organizing and answered questions from worried residents.
Amanda Kiger, who runs River Valley Organizing, has similar concerns, but says she doesn’t think the dioxin testing would be happening without community pushback.
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