Norfolk Southern Corp. has begun removing potentially contaminated soil from East Palestine, Ohio, where a Feb. 3 train derailment led to a burnoff of five rail cars of PVC feedstock vinyl chloride monomer.
Soil removal began March 4, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Ohio EPA said that as of March 9, more than 6,000 pounds of solid waste have also left the derailment site. More than half of that amount has been taken to sites in Ohio to be incinerated. The remainder will be placed in landfills in Michigan and Indiana.
In addition, almost 4.5 million gallons of wastewater has been removed from the area. That material will be disposed of through deep well injection at sites in Ohio, Michigan and Texas.
Since soil removal began, U.S. EPA has been monitoring and conducting real-time environmental sampling near the worksite, officials said. To date, no off-site releases of vapor at levels of concern have been detected.
"EPA does not anticipate exceedances of levels of health concern because of this work," officials said. "We are carefully overseeing this work to ensure residents' safety."
They added that, while the agency doesn't anticipate to see levels exceed health concerns, it does expect the potential for increased odors from the soil removal. At EPA's request, Norfolk Southern is offering financial help for temporary lodging and other expenses to impacted residents.
The derailment happened the night of Feb. 3. Almost 40 rail cars derailed, including five that contained VCM, which is a feedstock for PVC resin. No injuries were reported from the derailment.
Rising temperatures in one of the VCM cars led officials from both Ohio and Pennsylvania — very close to the derailment site — and the railroad on Feb. 6 to drain all five cars and burn off the VCM, resulting in thick black smoke and a chemical odor throughout the area. Officials said that decision was made because of the possibility of an explosion that could have sent shrapnel up to a mile away.
Government and railroad officials have said the air and water have tested safe in most of the area, but local residents — some of whom had been evacuated for three days — remain concerned about their health and the impact of the burnoff.
On March 9, farmers in the affected area attended a round table discussion hosted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Salem, Ohio. The event focused on the upcoming planting season and addressed concerns about potential agricultural impacts caused by the train derailment. ODA is working with Ohio State University and agricultural partners in Columbiana County to develop a plan for the testing of milk, eggs, and plant materials.