Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are sounding the alarm over the potential spread of “highly toxic,” cancer-causing pollutants from the East Palestine, Ohio, site where a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3.
In a Feb. 18 letter (pdf) to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Director Anne Vogel, the two senators expressed the concern that testing for dioxins—a group of toxic chemical compounds—may not have been included in the agencies’ air monitoring processes thus far.
“We are concerned that the burning of large volumes of vinyl chloride may have resulted in the formation of dioxins that may have been dispersed throughout the East Palestine community and potentially a much large[r] area,” the lawmakers wrote.
According to the EPA, dioxins are a group of chemical compounds known as “persistent organic pollutants” because they break down very slowly once they are released into the environment. They are often produced through industrial activities, combustion processes, and chlorine bleaching, and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals.
In the days following the derailment, to prevent an explosion, authorities conducted a “controlled burn” of the hazardous materials that spilled from the train, which included toxic vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic gas used to create hard plastic resin.
Noting that the combustion of vinyl chloride can produce dioxins, the senators stressed that, per the EPA, the pollutants “are highly toxic, can interfere with hormones, and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, or damage to the immune system.”
While more than 90 percent of human exposure to dioxins is through the food chain, the chemicals can also contaminate drinking water through air emissions from combustion, like through the incineration of waste, and subsequent deposition into lakes and reservoirs.
And with some East Palestine residents reporting adverse health effects—including rashes, headaches, vomiting, and other ailments—many have wondered if the chemical spill is to blame.
As of Feb. 19, however, the EPA had tested the air in 533 homes near the derailment site, finding “no exceedances for residential air quality standards.”
Additionally, addressing East Palestine residents at a Feb. 17 press conference, Regan noted that the agency’s around-the-clock air monitoring had not detected concerning levels of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride in the air.
Meanwhile, OEPA reported the same day that the final results of the state’s water testing had confirmed there was “no indication of risk” from East Palestine’s treated drinking water.
However, the agency has not yet confirmed if testing for dioxins has been included in those processes.
Requesting confirmation of whether any testing for dioxins had yet to be conducted, the two senators urged that, if not, the EPA and OEPA ensure it was implemented immediately and then communicated to the public.
The Epoch Times has reached out to the EPA and OEPA for comment.