Shipment of contaminated waste from the site of a fiery train derailment earlier this month in eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line will resume Monday to two approved sites in Ohio, according to federal environmental authorities.
The announcement came a day after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern to “pause” shipments from the site of the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine to allow additional oversight measures about where waste was shipped. Some liquid and solid waste had already been taken to sites in Michigan and Texas.
EPA-certified facilities able to accept some of the waste had been identified, which meant shipments could restart Monday, Region 5 administrator Debra Shore, of the Environmental Protection Agency, said Sunday.
Some of the liquid waste will be sent to a facility in Vickery, Ohio, for disposal in an underground injection well, Shore said. Norfolk Southern will also begin shipping solid waste to an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, and additional solid waste disposal locations were being sought, she said.
“All of this is great news for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding community, because it means cleanup can continue at a rapid pace,” she said.
The Ohio governor’s office said Saturday night that five of the 20 truckloads (approximately 280 tons) of hazardous solid waste had been returned to East Palestine after 15 truckloads were disposed of at a Michigan hazardous waste treatment and disposal facility. Shore said material shipped out to sites in other states, but later returned to East Palestine, would now be shipped to the two Ohio sites.
All of the rail cars except for the 11 cars held by the National Transportation Safety Board have been removed from the site, which will allow excavation of additional contaminated soil and installation of monitoring wells to check for groundwater contamination, said Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
No one was injured when 38 Norfolk Southern cars derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of town, but as fears grew about a potential explosion due to hazardous chemicals in five of the rail cars, officials evacuated the area. They later opted to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from the tanker cars, sending flames and black smoke billowing into the sky again.
Federal and state officials have repeatedly said it’s safe for evacuated residents to return to the area and that air testing in the town and inside hundreds of homes hasn’t detected any concerning levels of contaminants. The state says the local municipal drinking water system is safe, and bottled water is available for those with private wells. Despite those assurances, many residents have expressed a sense of mistrust or have lingering questions about what they have been exposed to and how it will impact the future of their families and communities.