A government watchdog is conducting an investigation into the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the East Palestine train derailment.
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General, an independent section of the federal agency, is initiating the inquiry into the response to the derailment, which led to the intentional burning of more than 100,000 gallons of highly toxic vinyl chloride.
It will look at issues like hazardous waste disposal, air and water monitoring, soil and sediment sampling, and risk communication.
Residents and scientists have criticized the EPA’s response to the disaster, including its decision to wait several weeks before deciding to test for dioxins.
The EPA has reported the air and water samples in East Palestine are safe; but many residents have reported symptoms like coughs, rashes and headaches after returning home.
“What it feels like is, is the railroad is in charge. And that’s what it’s felt like since the beginning,” said Amanda Kiger, co-executive director of the local community group River Valley Organizing.
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Kiger said a case in point is the one-mile evacuation radius from the derailment site established by the EPA. Norfolk Southern will pay to temporarily relocate anyone within that radius during cleanup operations. But Kiger said people outside of that radius have also been experiencing health symptoms since the derailment, and they’re unable to be compensated to relocate during cleanup.
“We see people that are 1.2 miles, you know, one and a half miles and over two and three miles where we have kids with nosebleeds, their ears are bleeding from irritation,” Kiger said. “We have folks going to the hospital still and are told that they have chemical burns in their lungs. These are folks that are outside of that one-mile radius that they’re telling people it’s safe; there’s nothing to see here.”
The office has recently investigated EPA’s response to Superfund cleanups around the country, as well as to the water crises in Flint, Mich. and Jackson, Miss. The office will be able to interview EPA personnel and see any materials related to the investigation.
Anyone with knowledge of potential fraud, waste, abuse, misconduct, or mismanagement related to the East Palestine response is being asked to contact the Office of the Inspector General’s hotline at (888) 546-8740 or through the office’s website.