The Environmental Protection Agency said today that, as of yesterday evening, 291 homes have been screened in the area the train derailment that occurred 10 days ago in East Palestine, Ohio. To date, no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified for the completed screened homes, while there are 181 homes that remain to be screened.
Local schools and the library were screened yesterday, EPA said, and the agency’s network of air monitoring stations throughout the East Palestine area did not detect anything above the action level.
A train derailment occurred at approximately 8:55 PM EST on February 3 in East Palestine, OH. Norfolk Southern reported the incident at 10:53 PM ET to the National Response Center. At that time, it was reported that an unknown number of the 150 train cars had derailed, but 20 of the cars were listed as carrying hazardous materials. Approximately 50 cars were affected by the derailment with the rest being uncoupled and removed from the scene.
A fire was still active as of February 5 and local officials issued evacuation orders for the surrounding area. EPA assisted with the response by providing stationary and roaming air monitoring in the area surrounding the fire and neighboring community. Measures were also being taken to sample and mitigate any possible impacts to water at Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.
EPA has been monitoring for volatile organic compounds (also known as VOCs) including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate. EPA also has been monitoring levels of carbon monoxide, oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, and hydrogen chloride, as well as measuring the flammability of gases in the perimeter.
EPA community air monitoring readings did not detect any contaminants of concern other than particulate matter on Feb. 5. Norfolk Southern’s contractor has also been conducting air monitoring in both the community and near/in work zones. Low levels of VOCs have been detected for brief periods in the community near the work zones and staging areas. Roaming air monitoring teams conducted additional air monitoring in these areas to verify localized readings. Additionally, low levels of VOCs and nitrogen dioxide have been detected within the active work zones.
On February 6, EPA moved air monitoring stations in preparation for a planned burn of affected rail cars, and resumed real-time air monitoring operations this afternoon. Prior to the relocation, air monitoring readings were below detection levels for most contaminants, except for particulate matter. Ohio EPA was leading efforts to investigate and address impacts to Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.
During Norfolk Southern’s controlled burn yesterday of rail cars containing vinyl chloride on February 7, U.S. EPA air monitoring detected particulate matter resulting from the fire. U.S. EPA air monitoring did not detect chemical contaminants of concern in the hours following the controlled burn. Residents in the area and tens of miles away may smell odors coming from the site. This is because the byproducts of the controlled burn have a low odor threshold. This means people may smell these contaminants at levels much lower than what is considered hazardous.
EPA reported February 8 that the agency and Ohio EPA inspected the wreck site and found spilled materials in Sulphur Run. Oily product was found leaking from a tank car and pooling on to the soil. Norfolk Southern was notified of the spill and began removing the product using a vacuum truck. EPA investigated a complaint of odors from the Darlington Township, Pennsylvania, fire station. A team with air monitoring equipment was dispatched to the station, where they did not observe any contaminants above detection limits. Air monitoring instruments detected increased concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) downwind of the derailment fire, but they remained below the screening level for VOCs.
Norfolk Southern contractors installed a dam and a water bypass at Sulphur Run to prevent further contamination of downstream waters. They have also stopped spillage of remaining spilled product onto the stream.
On February 11, EPA said it had issued a general notice of potential liability letter to Norfolk Southern to document the release or threat of release of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants to the environment following the train derailment. The letter outlines EPA cleanup actions at the site and the potential to hold the railroad accountable for associated costs.
EPA posted a document Sunday from Norfolk Southern listing the cars that were involved in the derailment and the products they were carrying.
EPA continues to conduct air monitoring throughout the East Palestine community. Air monitoring since the fire went out has not detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time. For example, there have been some exceedances of PM2.5 screening values, but those are both upwind and downwind of the derailment site so likely had another cause.
Residents may still smell odors from the site. If you experience symptoms, the Columbiana County Health Department recommends calling your medical provider.
The duration of community air monitoring will be guided using a data- and evidence-based approach. As information continues to be collected, EPA, in consultation with local authorities, will develop a plan to eventually phase out community air monitoring.
Assistance for evacuated residents
Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center: (800) 230-7049
To request air monitoring at your home
Residential Re-Entry Request Hotline: (330) 849-3919
Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency: (330) 424-7139
U.S. EPA Information Line: (215) 814-2400