ROACHDALE, Ind. (WISH) — The federal government has launched a special investigation into Norfolk Southern railroad company after the fiery East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment.
I-Team 8 told viewers last week about the truckloads of soil already arriving from Ohio at a Putnam County landfill. The announcement of a federal investigation came as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management released a statement saying waste shipments from the site to Indiana are on hold. A concern over a type of chemicals classified as dioxins caused the pause in shipments.
A third-party agency is testing the soil to see if it has dangerous levels of dioxins in it.
Gabriel Filippelli, a environmental geochemist and professor at IUPUI, who is closely following the type of contaminated soil slated to come to Putnam County, told I-Team 8, “Dioxins are a class of chemicals that are actually quite dangerous. They’re called persistent organic pollutants because they last in the environment for a very long time.”
“These materials probably do have dioxins in them, or at least that’s how they’re being listed right now,” Filippelli added.
On Tuesday morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed it will temporarily stop the waste shipments to Indiana from the site of the Feb. 3 train derailment.
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, said the waste should never have come to Indiana first without testing. “This halted shipment should stay halted, and the Biden EPA should explain why they started shipping material to Indiana instead of Michigan as originally planned.”
Previously, the operators of the Putnam County landfill, Heritage Environmental Services, told I-Team 8 it was only one of several facilities across the country slated to get the Ohio soil. Other sites included two in Michigan, where politicians also say they don’t want the soil to come to their districts.
The IUPUI professor said, “It’s the NIMBY attitude, ‘not in my back yard.'”
Filippelli also told I-Team 8 the toxic material has to go somewhere, and the landfill outside of Roachdale, Indiana, is qualified to take it, even if the third party’s testing reveals the soil has dioxins in it.
The professor said, “This facility is certainly capable of handling that, and I think what the public often doesn’t recognize is that this type of material has been going to that specific landfill for quite some time, so these hazardous wastes are regularly brought to these facilities. It’s just the profile of this case is hard to miss.”
If the testing reveals dioxins, Indiana Department of Environmental Management might require a special treatment before the soil can be disposed at the landfill. The state department plans to release the results of the soil testing when it is completed, although no timetable has been announced.
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana Department of Homeland Security told I-Team 8 that trains carrying hazardous materials are going through the state on a daily basis.
“If a train comes through your community, you can almost bet that some of those cars do have hazardous materials,” said Indiana Fire Marshal Steve Jones.
The state is not always notified when and where the trains will be. “We don’t get a specific notification ‘Today is when it happens,'” Jones said.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security says train companies only have to notify the state if the train is deemed a high hazard flammable train. Those are trains with 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid in one continuous string of cars, or 35 or more loaded tank cars of Class 3 liquid throughout the whole train.
About a dozen of those trains travel through Indiana every week.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security told I-Team 8 that the derailed train in New Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 was not a high hazard flammable train, so Norfolk Southern had no federal duty to reporting it.
Jones told told I-Team 8 that hazardous-material crews are always prepared to handle a derailment. If one happens, one of the first things they have to take into consideration is what is around the derailment. “Are there residential neighborhoods? Are there apartment buildings? Are their nursing homes, hospitals, in the area that could be affected?”
The game plan for emergency crews to minimizing harm to the surrounding area could change moment to moment depending on the specific chemical that was part of the derailment. They may choose to put it out, let it burn, let the container leak out, or any number of tactics to handle the situation in the safest way possible.
The Indiana Fire marshal says everyone living near rail lines needs to be thinking about this as a possibility. “A level of education keeps the fear away if you know what to do, what your plans need to be. Where the fear kicks in is whenever you’ve never thought about it before and now it’s happening,” Jones said.
He suggests making a plan with family members about what you’ll do if a train with hazardous materials derails nearby and emergency crews tell you to evacuate. “What types of things you need take with you? Medications and clothes, those types of things to already have that plan of what you need to grab as you head out the door,” Jones said.
The state fire marshal added that trains are still one of the safest ways to transport hazardous materials in the United States.
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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Purdue University professors told I-Team 8 Hoosiers should not be concerned about their water being contaminated by the train derailment, despite what you might see online.
Andrew Whelton is a professor teaching environmental and ecological engineering. He’s been following this situation in East Palestine from the very beginning.
He’s seen misinformation being spread online about the impact to Hoosiers.
“There’s a whole bunch of people pushing information that’s just not true. Not possible. There’s no way that West Lafayette’s drinking water could be contaminated by the disaster that occurred a 7 hour drive from here” Whelton said.
His Colleague Linda Lee who studied environmental contamination, agrees.
She told I-Team 8 that people here should not even be concerned about air pollution caused by the burning of chemicals from the derailed train.
“Unless we get wind currents that bring some of that over here, we don’t expect to be impacted, and by the time it travels very far, I would expect most of it to be gone or very diluted,” Lee said.
“Basically it’s like putting dye in a bathtub. You put a lot of red dye in a bathtub, it will be really dark, but as you fill that bathtub up with more and more water, the amount of chemical that is being diluted and it doesn’t pose a threat,” said Whelton who added, “The primary risk is right in the immediate area where the detonation occurred. Where the liquids were discharged into the rivers and streams and killed fish.”
Whelton told I-Team 8 people should pay attention to our upstream neighbors along the Ohio River for any concerning signs of contamination.
“Cincinnati has been doing a lot of water testing. All these different cities up along the Ohio river are not worried about the contamination coming down the Ohio River, so people in Indiana, especially those living down by the Ohio river, have nothing to worry about,” Whelton said.
Lee said the decision for crews in East Palestine to release the chemical and burn it early after the derailment likely lessened the groundwater contamination because it was released into the atmosphere in a different and less harmful form.
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