EPA orders Norfolk Southern to continue cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio

Creek sediment near derailment site is showing sheen of oil contamination when disturbed
An aerial photo shows cleanup and remediation continuing near the site of the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern freight train derailment, Saturday, July 15, 2023, in East Palestine. (Matt Freed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: (Matt Freed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: (Matt Freed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

An aerial photo shows cleanup and remediation continuing near the site of the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern freight train derailment, Saturday, July 15, 2023, in East Palestine. (Matt Freed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week ordered Norfolk Southern to continue cleaning up creeks in East Palestine, Ohio, where there are still visible effects of the February derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials.

Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern has been working to clean up the derailment site in East Palestine in the eight months since then, after the EPA issued a Superfund order requiring the railroad to remove spilled substances and contaminated soil from the site. EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine earlier this week, and the agency said 98% of the excavation of the derailment site has been completed.

EPA says as of this month, there has been an estimated 148,662 tons of solid waste and 34.3 million gallons of wastewater hauled out and shipped. Waste has gone to EPA-approved sites including in Ohio, Texas, Michigan and Indiana, with some liquid wastewater disposed of through deep-well injection. Solid waste is being incinerated or placed in specially-designed landfills designed to minimize the chance of releasing hazardous waste into the environment. Last month, a new wastewater treatment system on the derailment site began treating wastewater before it is hauled out.

Now, EPA says it is ordering “a similarly comprehensive investigation of oil-contaminated sediments in the creeks.”

Norfolk Southern said the order “formalizes the continuation of work that has been ongoing since the derailment,” and that the company “remains cooperative, working with EPA and Ohio EPA at the site, and will continue to address derailment-related impacts in the waterways of Sulphur and Leslie Runs.”

“The work under this new order will complement and build upon our prior cleanup and assessment efforts. We remain committed to cleaning up the site safely and thoroughly,” Norfolk Southern said in a written statement.

The Feb. 3, 2023 derailment involved rail cars carrying pollutants, oil and hazardous substances, and some cars spilled their loads into a ditch that feeds a stream in East Palestine called Sulphur Run, which joins Leslie Run.

EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore in a statement said there has been progress in the cleanup, “but we know there is more work to be done,” adding that “the sediment in the creeks in some areas may generate a sheen when disturbed or agitated.”

EPA is ordering Norfolk Southern to continue the cleanup in culverts to remove contaminated sediment downstream from the derailment site.

The order also calls for continued investigation of contaminated sediments along a five-mile stretch of the creeks, to determine if more cleanup is necessary to address potential long-term impacts. EPA said there is “no indication of risk” to private wells or public water customers in East Palestine.

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