EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Independent testing in East Palestine is showing what’s being called an alarming increase in dioxin levels.

The testing was done at Sulphur Run Creek by scientist Scott Smith.

“Something has happened where the dioxins have increased in the sediment and to be clear, we need continued testing of sediment. Again, you can’t find what you don’t look for,” Smith said. 

Smith took sediment samples back on May 29. He compared the results to samples taken in February, right after the train derailment. The results show a major increase in dioxin levels.

“I found dioxins post derailment, on Feb. 22, and took another reading on March 8 where the dioxins were declining. Then, my May 29 results from Memorial Day came in from the same location with the sediment showing a substantial percentage increase,” Smith said. 

Smith believes dust and particles being moved during remediation work could be what’s causing it.

“What happened between February, March 8, and May 29. There have been excavations, remediation of the burn pits, residents have continued to complain — even last week,” Smith said.

He says the increase in dioxin levels is alarming and it’s something that needs to be looked into further. He feels testing should be continuous, especially at Sulphur Run Creek.

“In my opinion, Sulphur Run needs a lot more testing, and remember you can’t find what you don’t look for. If you’re not testing the sediment for dioxins, you’re not going to find the dioxins. Testing surface water is all well and good, but because these dioxin molecules are heavier than water, they settle into the sediment and then they release when they’re disturbed,” Smith said.

Back in April, the Environmental Protection Agency released its findings for its dioxin testing of 146 sites in and around East Palestine. At that time, the EPA stated the majority of its results were between 2.6 – 14 ppt.

In the data that the EPA provided, it states that 480 ppt would be the removal management level. 

Smith’s test results show that all but two of the dioxin types recognized are above the 480 ppt base number.

First News reached out to the EPA to find out what they thought of these results and whether or not they will look into them and conduct further testing. Although they were not available for comment, they did respond to several of our questions.

Q1: Is the EPA testing dust particles for dioxins? If not, why?

EPA Response: EPA is not testing dust particles for dioxins. Dust generated by response activities came predominantly from support areas. Additionally, EPA’s air sampling and monitoring program has not indicated airborne migration of response-related chemicals of concern, including particulate matter. Since the evacuation was lifted, no sustained levels of chemicals of concern have been observed in the community.

Q2: Is the EPA or has the EPA tested sediments in Sulphur Run for dioxins? This does not include surface water testing, I am specifically asking if sediments from the floor of the creek were tested. If not, why? If so, when?

EPA Response:  Sulphur Run is currently being assessed to evaluate the extent of contamination.  Results should be available within the next several weeks. Through sampling of on-site waste and off-site soils, EPA’s assessment of the impacts of the vent and burn operation has shown that the impacts of dioxin contamination to be minimal.  You can find EPA’s workplans on our Web Site .

Q3. Mr. Smith’s test results indicate a major increase in dioxin levels between the month of March and May. He has indicated that this could possibly be due to remediation work in which contaminated dust, soil, etc. is being moved and possibly contaminating the creek. Is the EPA aware of this and is it something that you will look into following the release of these results? 

EPA Response:   EPA has repeatedly requested a workplan or report from Mr. Smith that indicates how he is collecting and interpreting data.  In a meeting on July 20, EPA asked Mr. Smith a number of technical questions regarding dioxin related compounds which he couldn’t answer. We have asked to meet with Mr. Smith’s advisors as we are highly concerned with the quality and usefulness of data the is being communicated to the public. If Mr. Smith has only collected two samples to draw a conclusion about the impacts of site activity to Sulphur Run over time, then that data is not sufficient for characterization purposes. As EPA has not had the opportunity to review any plans or the data, we can’t comment further. Also, please note that surface water from the upstream of the site is being pumped around the impacted areas, so, there is no connection between the site and downstream areas of Sulphur Run since site cleanup has begun.

Scott Smith response: That is not accurate as to my meeting with the EPA and it is unfortunate that the EPA public relations people have chosen this path. The EPA is now operating with the typical PR playbook of Delay, Deny, Discredit, Dismiss, and Defame. The EPA has refused to provide details to me and the experts on my team.

In response to the above statements, First News was able to acquire an email sent to the EPA by Smith on July 27 in response to the EPA’s request for more data. The email reads in part below:

Q4. Mr. Smith has admitted that there have been many tests in which his results were similar to those of the EPA’s results, due to the fact of testing in the same spot. However, he has implied that these current results are from testing done in areas that the EPA may not be testing. Will the EPA consider testing sediments from Sulphur Run, now that we have seen his independent test results?

EPA ResponseMr. Smith has not shared his current Sulphur Run results with EPA.

Q5. Roughly one month ago, the EPA stated publicly, that it would not conduct indoor testing in people’s homes. At that time, Mr. Smith was conducting testing on furnace filters in some resident’s homes. Since then, the EPA has announced that it will offer free indoor cleaning. Why will the EPA offer indoor cleaning and not indoor testing? 

EPA Response: The air and soil in and around the community has been monitored and sampled, and results confirm our confidence that the air and soil in East Palestine and surrounding communities, including inside homes, is not a concern for incident-specific chemicals. While community testing conducted to date has not indicated that potential impacts inside homes or places of business were significant, indoor cleaning is being offered to address potential dust emissions that may have been generated as part of the train derailment and cleanup work.

Dust generated by response activities came predominantly from support areas.  All on-site vehicles are thoroughly cleaned before leaving contaminated areas. Additionally, EPA’s air sampling and monitoring program has not indicated airborne migration of response-related chemicals of concern migrating through the air, including particulate matter. Since the evacuation was lifted, no sustained levels of chemicals of concern have been observed in the community.

With respect to Mr. Smith’s testing of furnace filters, EPA has concerns about the quality and usefulness of this data. We have asked Mr. Smith repeatedly to share his methodology with EPA. Here’s a list of items that should be provided to evaluate the quality of his data:

  • A workplan, sampling plan, and/or quality assurance plan to describe what the data are intended to prove and how the data will be used.
  • A description of the sampling methodology, including how the samples are universally collected to ensure comparable data (for example, if furnace filters are being sampled and compared, the filters need to be the same style and type, verified clean by use of blanks, the average flow rate through the filter must be recorded, and the time of particle collection must be documented).
  • A description of the comparative standards that the data will be evaluated against.
  • A report from the company/individual who did the assessment that describes their methodology, data quality objectives, and conclusions.

In a previous report done by First News, Mark Durno with the EPA said they trust Smith’s data and the lab he uses.

“We know the lab that he’s using is a quality lab. It’s the same type of lab we would use, so for us to collect split samples or side-by-side samples really doesn’t provide anything. Again, we don’t question the laboratory data, what we are curious about is to understand the methodology. Why were the samples collected?” Durno stated.