The US EPA announced it will force Norfolk Southern to begin testing for dioxins near the site of its derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Concerns about dioxins have been mounting since the company intentionally burned several rail cars’ worth of vinyl chloride. Dioxins can be formed when vinyl chloride burns, and cause a suite of health problems, including cancer and problems with reproductive and developmental health.
The agency had been getting pressured to test for dioxins by residents, community groups, and the state’s two US Senators.
In a letter to the senators, Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, the agency said that if dioxins are found in the area, the agency will share that information with the public and “determine whether the level of contaminants found poses any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment and direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed.”
EPA administrator Michael Regan, who has been in East Palestine several times since the derailment, said in a statement he had heard concerns about dioxin from the community.
“I’ve heard their fears and concerns directly, and I’ve pledged that these experiences would inform EPA’s ongoing response efforts,” Regan said.
If dioxin levels exceed healthy levels, the agency will direct Norfolk Southern to conduct a comparative study of the area’s dioxin levels and other areas unaffected by the derailment since dioxins can come from a number of different sources, like burning wood or coal.
Community groups who have been pushing for the testing lauded the decision.
“This is exactly why we have to come together and fight for what our community needs: it’s the only way we’ll get the action we deserve,” said Jami Cozza, an East Palestine resident, and organizer for the group River Valley Organizing, in a statement.
The group is also pushing the EPA to stop the incineration of waste from the derailment at a facility in East Liverpool, Ohio, with numerous Clean Air Act violations. The agency says that the facility is in compliance.