EPA commits to testing toxic waste headed to Indiana landfill
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided a written commitment to Indiana that any additional hazardous waste from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment will undergo testing before it is shipped here, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Friday.
"This is the right decision for the EPA to take this important step," Holcomb said in a release.
The announcement came after Holcomb said Thursday that he was directing his administration to conduct testing of the hazardous materials being sent to a landfill near Roachdale — a small town about 40 miles west of Indianapolis.
For those materials already on their way to Indiana prior to the EPA's commitment, he said, his administration is continuing to work with a third-party laboratory, Pace Labs, to expedite testing of those truckloads. They hope to have detailed results early next week.
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The main focus is a toxic chemical called dioxins.
Dioxins are a chemical compound that takes a long time to break down once they are in the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are "highly toxic" and can cause cancer, reproductive and development problems as well as damage to the immune system, as listed on the EPA website. Dioxins can be produced through industrial activities as well as through combustion processes and then attach to dust particles.
The Roachdale landfill, operated by Heritage Environmental Services, cannot accept waste with dioxins, the company said Wednesday at a community meeting in the nearby town of Russellville.
Several hundred residents attended the meeting, which lasted for more than three hours, and many raised concerns about potential impacts to the surrounding environment and public health. No one in the audience spoke in favor of the waste coming to the privately owned landfill.
The landfill also has some past violations: It has had 12 quarters of noncompliance dating back to the spring of 2020, the EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online database shows.
At Wednesday's meeting, company representatives said that the EPA website for that particular issue is inaccurate and the alleged noncompliance was related to a labeling issue on a container. They stressed that there’s been no release from that landfill and the noncompliance remains open only because the state is completing paperwork.
The facility has already accepted at least three truckloads of contaminated soil from Ohio, company representatives announced at the meeting. It is unclear what will happen to that waste if dioxins are detected in the testing ordered by Holcomb.
On Thursday, the EPA also announced that it will require Norfolk Southern, the company behind the derailment, to test the wreck site directly for dioxins. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency made this decision in response to concerns raised by residents in East Palestine.
If dioxins are found at a level that poses any unacceptable risk to human health or the environment, the EPA will direct the immediate cleanup of the area as needed, the agency release said.
Thus far, the EPA has focused on sampling for "indicator chemicals," or those that would suggest the potential for the release of dioxins as a result of the derailment. As of Feb. 28, the agency has collected more than 115 samples from soils, air, surface water and sediments.
To date, the release said, EPA's monitoring for indicator chemicals "has suggested a low probability for release of dioxin from this incident."
In his Thursday statement, Holcomb continues to stress that it was "extremely disappointing" to learn through a press conference that the EPA had chosen Indiana as a disposal location. He said that he "expressed as much to the EPA administrator" when they spoke on the phone Tuesday.
"All of us can agree that we should do everything within our control to provide assurance to our communities," Holcomb said. "This testing is the next necessary step."
Testing began Friday for the waste already received and additional samples are scheduled to be take Saturday morning, according to an updated statement from Holcomb. Analysis will begin the same day in the Pace Laboratory, the statement said.
Holcomb said any results will be shared with the public as soon as they become available in an effort to be open and transparent. He said he is hoping for detailed results early next week of the waste that has already arrived in Indiana.
Environmental reporter Karl Schneider contributed to this report.
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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: EPA commits to testing toxic waste headed to Indiana landfill