Around 15,000 pounds of contaminated soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water have been excavated from the site of a train derailment earlier this month in East Palestine, Ohio, train operator Norfolk Southern said on Feb. 20.
The announcement comes shortly after a state senator warned people living in close proximity to the derailment not to drink or bathe in the water.
Norfolk Southern said that the excavated contaminated soil and water will be transported to landfills and disposal facilities that are “designed to accept it safely in accordance with state and federal regulations.”
“Additionally, a series of pumps have been placed upstream to reroute Sulphur Run around the derailment site,” the carrier said. “The affected portion of Sulphur Run has been dammed to protect water downstream.”
“Environmental teams are treating the impacted portions of Sulphur Run with booms, aeration, and carbon filtration units,” Norfolk Southern said, adding that those teams are “also working with stream experts to collect soil and groundwater samples to develop a comprehensive plan to address any contamination that remains in the stream banks and sediment.”
The train, carrying about 50 freight cars, was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 3 when it derailed in East Palestine.
State officials ordered the evacuation of a 1-mile radius surrounding the crash site shortly after the incident but lifted those evacuation orders after crews burned the chemicals onboard, which included vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and butyl acrylate, in a controlled release on Feb. 6.
The controlled release also sent phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air.
At the time the order was lifted, officials declared that it is safe for residents to return to the area after monitoring the air and water in surrounding communities and claiming they were not affected.
However, residents soon began to express concerns about their long-term health, with one resident telling The Washington Post that her family experienced headaches and nausea after returning to their home.
Other residents shared concerns regarding the environmental effects of the derailment, with some claiming to have seen dead animals in streams nearby the site of the accident, while one North Lima resident told local news outlets that all of her chickens had suddenly died shortly after the derailment.
Over the weekend, Ohio State Senator Michael Rulli, a Republican, warned residents within ten miles of the derailment not to during the water or bathe in it, telling Breitbart that it is “not safe: to do so.”
Rulli, whose district covers East Palestine, added that there are concerns about “cancer in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years,” among residents in close proximity to the derailment site.
“So what I’m suggesting is that everyone goes as far away as you can and get a hotel room,” Rulli said. The Senator added that he himself has experienced a “sore throat for the rest of the day” whenever he visits East Palestine.
Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also voiced concerns about cancer-causing pollutants from the site in a Feb. 18 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Director Anne Vogel.
Several lawsuits have since been filed regarding the derailment, which is currently being probed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Norfolk Southern said on Monday that the “majority of the hazardous rail cars have been decontaminated and are being held on-site” to allow NTSB to continue with its investigation.
Once that probe is completed, the rail cars will be “scrapped and moved off-site for disposal,” the train operator said.
Norfolk Southern also noted that it has committed more than $5.6 million to East Palestine to date, including $3.4 million in direct financial assistance to families.
“I want residents of East Palestine to know that Norfolk Southern will be in their community to help for as long as needed,” CEO Alan Shaw said.
The excavation of the contaminated water and soil comes as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro are set to travel to East Palestine Tuesday to provide an update on the status of cleanup work at the derailment site.
They will be joined for the briefing by the EPA’s Regan, according to reports.