EPA reports response footprint is beginning to shrink

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — According to the latest update from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detailing the cleanup efforts following last year’s Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical spill, the footprint of the response is beginning to shrink.

“Community members may notice soil movement activity occurring south of Taggart Street. Water storage is being reduced in that area,” the agency said on its derailment website.

“Following storage tank cleanout and removal, ground padding is removed, and topsoil is scraped, piled, and sampled. Once analytical data is received, the soil is shipped to an appropriate facility for final disposal. The area is then ready for final confirmation sampling.”

The restoration of the natural water flow back into Sulphur Run has lessened the need for storage tanks that were constructed to hold captured stormwater, ice melt and other water that may have come in contact with contaminated soil.

With the last of the impacted dirt reportedly excavated and disposed of in October, water flowing through the site is no longer considered an environmental issue. Following the derailment, water was redirected around the site with a clean-water-bypass system — a series of pipes and pumps that moved to a containment pond. The collected water was then discharged downstream.

“The return of natural water flow back into Sulphur Run continues,” the EPA said. “This return of water to the ditches results in much less water collection volume. This in turn allows for tank farm areas to be decommissioned and for final clearance sampling and restoration to be completed.”

Final site-wide confirmation sampling is at 64% according to the EPA. Last month, the sampling revealed the presence of derailment-related chemicals. Rumors in the community speculated a “pocket of contamination” was discovered under the CeramFab building. The EPA disputed that.

“A detection of low-level vinyl chloride was found just north of the tracks near the eastern end of the derailment site – nowhere near any structures,” the EPA clarified. “This was part of the full-site confirmation sampling process. That soil was removed. Samples on all sides of the removed soils indicate that this minor removal is complete.”

CeramFab — a 80,000-square-foot building that sits right next to where the train derailed and directly next to what unified command refers to as Car Scrapping Area 4 (where burned out cars were dismantled for disposal — has been a point of contention with the EPA and some residents who believe contamination lingers at the site. While all the soil around the building has been excavated, the dirt beneath has not. Last year, Norfolk Southern environmental remediation team did not rule out the possibility of that building needing to be razed. However, since then, Norfolk Southern and the EPA have both explained the property is undergoing a vapor-intrusion study as laid out in Appendix E of the Characterization Work Plan for Derailment-Area Soil. According to Appendix E, reported odors inside the building reflected the need for ambient air, indoor air, and sub-slab vapor sampling. The plan also said that “potential preferential pathways” would also be considered and identified. Aside from CeramFab, Brave Industries and U.S. Stonewares and Strohecker Industries will also be assessed during the vapor intrusion study which is expected to take a year or longer to complete. When asked last year what remedy would be performed if elevated levels are detected in the vapor intrusion sampling, Norfolk said if high levels are found, a mitigation plan would be put into action, but did not elaborate on the details of that plan.

In other remediation updates, the EPA reported that “initial cleanup efforts” in Leslie Run are completed and a full reassessment of the both Leslie and Sulphur Runs snow underway. The reassessment is meant ” to identify any residual oil sheening that needs to be addressed” with Sulphur Run being evaluated first. This work is expected to continue for several weeks.

The cleanup of both streams was to remedy results of an investigation into the visible sheen still present months after the derailment. Last October, the EPA, under its Clean Water Act authority, ordered Norfolk Southern and the railroad’s contractors to perform the study.

The cleanup to target the results of the investigation began in March but hit a few snags. The operations were suspended the day they began until methods could be implemented to better more effectively contain and recover oil sheen from sediments that were stirred up during the process.

The failure of the collection methods appeared to be caught on video and posted to social media by East Palestine resident Randy Dehaven. In the video, sheen could be seen passing the soft and hard booms and turbidity curtains meant to contain it as contractors work upstream.

In total, the EPA reports that 178,717 tons of soil and other solid waste has been shipped off site and disposed of at EPA-approved facilities in addition to 70,850,706 gallons of wastewater shipped.

Site-wide confirmation sampling, shipment of untreated non-hazardous water and re-assessment of Sulphur Run will continue in the coming weeks.

The EPA also reminds residents that the EPA’s Welcome Center, located at 25 N. Market St., is open by appointment only. To make an appointment, call EPA’s information line at 330-775-6517. Questions can also be sent to r5–eastpalestine@epa.gov.


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