Michigan, Texas officials complain they weren’t warned of contaminated soil, water shipments from Ohio train wreck
Michigan and Texas officials are complaining that they were not told in advance about the shipment of contaminated soil and water from East Palestine, Ohio — where a train derailment earlier this month has caused a public health and environmental crisis — to their states.
Officials said they had not heard about the plan until after it was already set.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents the city of Ann Arbor and parts of the highly populated Wayne County in the House, said in a statement on Friday that she learned of the plan from a public update from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), which said contaminated soil from the site was being moved by truck to U.S. Ecology Wayne Disposal in the town of Belleville.
“We were not given a heads up on this reported action. Our priority is to always keep the people we represent safe,” she said.
Dingell said she is reaching out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Transportation Department (DOT), the train company Norfolk Southern, U.S. Ecology, the state of Ohio and others to learn what is being shipped. She also wants information on whether the facilities were approved to take the shipments, and on ways to keep Michigan residents safe.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans also said at a press conference on Friday that he was not notified about the toxic material being sent from the East Palestine site. He said county officials had not been officially informed but heard that trucks were on their way with liquid waste that was to be injected into a site in the Detroit suburb of Romulus and with solid waste set to go to a site in Van Buren Township.
Evans said some of the shipments had already been delivered.
“The fact that it’s here, and we haven’t been informed of the volume, we haven’t been informed of how it actually got here — Did it come by truck? Did it come by train? Did those transport vehicles, were they well-equipped to be able to deal with this?” he said.
“I don’t know how you do that without contacting the local officials so that we can, number one, respond to our communities and, number two, give advice in terms of routes that you may take and those other sorts of things,” he added.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) said in a statement that the shipments were paused by the EPA following the objections from local officials.
The department said the U.S. Ecology hazardous waste landfill where the shipment was set to go is subject to multiple environmental programs that multiple government agencies carry out, and the department conducts unannounced inspections and “extensive monitoring” of the facility.
“We expect any shipment of Ohio soils and liquids to be handled in accordance with all laws and regulations as any other contaminated site material that is disposed of at the facilities, which are subject to extensive monitoring to ensure that hazardous waste does not present a threat to the environment or human health,” The EGLE statement reads.
Leaders and residents of one Texas county are also expressing concerns about shipments being sent to near their community, as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed that she was told that water used to fight fires at the site in East Palestine would be sent to Deer Park, one of the 34 cities in the county, to be disposed.
She said she learned about this from a member of the press instead of any regulatory agency or official authority, which she called “unacceptable.”
Hidalgo claimed the community does not know a lot of information about the situation that it should. She said “that doesn’t mean something is wrong,” but it is worth noting.
The judge added that she has spoken with the waste disposal company receiving the water, several officials at the EPA and DOT and other agencies and experts.
Hidalgo said government officials have provided the information they have, but they don’t seem to have all of the details.
“I’m not clear on who has the full picture of what is happening here, and that is a problem,” she said.
Cleanup of the Ohio site where the Norfolk Southern train derailed is continuing weeks after hazardous materials leaked into the air and forced thousands of people to evacuate from the area for about five days.
State officials had said people could safely return home and use the water, but residents have reported rashes, difficulty breathing and feeling sick along with smelling noxious odors as they have come back.
Federal officials then began stepping in to conduct their own testing to determine the safety of the area.
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