EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Norfolk Southern claiming it failed to properly dispose of contaminated soil after the train derailment in East Palestine.

According to the letter, “Five railcar tankers of vinyl chloride were intentionally breached; the vinyl chloride was diverted to an excavated trench and then burned off. Areas of contaminated soil and free liquids were observed and potentially covered and/or filled during reconstruction of the rail line including portions of the trench /burn pit that was used for the open burn off of vinyl chloride.”

“I think it was not in the best interest of human health and welfare and the environment to simply cover it up and keep going without at least a preliminary evaluation to determine if the level of vinyl chloride that was present in the soil was going to create a potential contamination threat to surface or groundwater,” said Dr. Julie Weatherington-Rice who has a Ph.D. in soil science and has been working for Bennett & Williams Environmental Consultants since 1986.

We reached out to Norfolk Southern about the letter and contaminated soil. They sent the following response:

“During the initial response work at the site, involving moving equipment, etc., some soil is moved around to best complete that initial phase. We will continue to remediate the site, including the removal of soil, to reach or exceed regulatory standards. Soil taken from the site is moved to a separate site for testing before being safely disposed of.”

According to an EPA fact sheet for volatile organic chemicals, vinyl chloride is expected to be highly mobile in soil and may leach into the groundwater.

Weatherington-Rice said it’s possible vinyl chloride can travel through the ground as rain and precipitation move through the soil. It then has the potential to reach groundwater and eventually hit well fields.

“It’s not a question of whether it’s going to be an issue, it will be an issue, the question is how bad of an issue is it gonna be, where is it gonna go, and how long is it gonna take to get there, and what’s gonna happen when it gets there,” Weatherington-Rice said.

First News sent the following questions to the Ohio EPA, which is handing the cleanup:

  1. Are you able to confirm whether or not the contaminated soil was ever removed and by who?
  2. What type of dangers does the contaminated soil being covered/filled pose in the near and long-term future?
  3. Was any soil/gravel removed from the area, and if so, by who?
  4. Can there be any discipline if the contaminated soil is not removed and disposed of?
  5. When it is removed, where is it disposed of?
  6. Was any testing done on the soil prior to it being covered/filled and if so can you share those results?

As of 6 p.m. Monday, we have not gotten a response.

In the letter sent to Norfolk Southern, it says the EPA has spent or is considering spending, public funds to investigate and control releases of hazardous substances. It goes on to state that Norfolk Southern is responsible for the cleanup of the site or costs that the EPA has incurred in cleaning up the site. 

In Norfolk Southern’s response to First News, it states, “Norfolk Southern received the EPA’s letter and we have confirmed to them that we have and will continue to perform or finance environmental monitoring and remediation. Our hazmat team was in East Palestine within an hour of the incident, and the response continues today in close coordination with the Ohio and U.S. EPA, NTSB, and other federal, state, and local agencies.”

Below is the letter sent to Norfolk Southern by the U.S. EPA.