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EPA orders Norfolk to test East Palestine for dioxins

The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to test East Palestine for Dioxins. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to test East Palestine for Dioxins. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

March 3 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has directed Norfolk Southern to test for dioxin levels around Ohio's East Palestine where one of its trains transporting hazardous chemicals derailed early last month.

The Environmental Protection Agency gave the Class I freight railroad the order Thursday, saying if dioxins are found to be at a level that poses any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment, the company will be forced to conduct immediate cleanup operations.

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Norfolk Southern will also be required to conduct a background study to compare dioxin levels in East Palestine to the areas not impacted by the train derailment.

Dioxins, according to the EPA, are persistent pollutants that are highly toxic and can cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.

The train derailed in the eastern Ohio town that borders Pennsylvania on the night of Feb. 3. Of the train's 150 or so cars, 38 derailed and a dozen more were damaged in the ensuing fire.

Some of the cars were transporting hazardous materials, such as vinyl chloride, a highly flammable chemical, and under threat of an explosion, officials ordered a controlled burn of the contents, causing residents within proximity to evacuate.

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Residents were allowed to return to their homes amid worries over their health. Last month, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported that tens of thousands of animals and fish though mostly minnows are estimated to have died as a results of the train derailment, while earlier this week, some union workers conducting cleanup in East Palestine have reported suffering from nausea and migraines.

"Over the last few weeks, I've sat with East Palestine residents and community leaders in their homes, businesses, churches and school," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. "I've heard their fears and concerns directly, and I've pledged that these experiences would inform EPA's ongoing response efforts."

The cause of the derailment and chemical spill is under investigation, with investigators believing it may have to do with wheel bearings overheating before completely failing.

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that it is "looking closely" at aluminum protective housing covers on three of the vinyl chloride tank cars, stating that they melted into pressure relief devices.

NTSB officials said pressure relief devices regulate internal pressure by releasing small quantities of material and re-closing after normal conditions are restored, reducing the probably of a breach in the tank and what is called a catastrophic tank failure.

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The melted aluminum that dripped into the values may had degraded their performance, which could have contributed to the release of chemicals.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday following the Senate Democratic Luncheon that he plans to visit the beleaguered Ohio city.

"I've spoken with every official in Ohio, Democrat and Republican, on a continuous basis, as in Pennsylvania," he said. "And I will be out there at some point."

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