Thursday, March 30, 2023

East Palestine air pollutants raise health concerns, researchers say

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Three weeks after the toxic train derailment in Ohio, an independent analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data has found nine air pollutants at levels that, if persistent, could raise long-term health concerns in and around East Palestine.

The analysis by Texas A&M University researchers contrasts with statements by state and federal regulators that the air near the crash site is completely safe, despite residents complaining of rashes, breathing problems and other health effects.

In response Friday, EPA officials said air quality levels of the 79 chemicals they are monitoring remain below levels of concern for short-term exposure and that current concentrations are likely to disappear.

In its examination of EPA data, Texas A&M Researchers found high levels of chemicals known to cause eye and lung irritation, headaches and other symptoms, as well as some that are known or suspected to cause cancer.

It would take months, if not years, of exposure to the pollutants for serious health effects, said Weihsueh Chiu, one of the researchers.

EPA officials made that point Friday. They noted that the safety threshold the researchers used to analyze the data assumes continuous exposure over a lifetime, and said they don’t expect the contamination to remain at high concentrations “anywhere near that long.”

denim The researchers said it was “good news” that levels of benzene and related chemicals were not elevated in air sampling. But they said the EPA measured acrolein, a dangerous substance found in smoke, at concentrations that could have long-term health effects, along with other chemicals at lower levels that in combination could also cause health concerns if left in the air. these levels for months or years. .

Of the cars that derailed the Norfolk Southern train on February 3, 11 of them carried chemicals used to make plastics. As temperatures inside a rail car rose to levels authorities feared would cause a massive explosion, they conducted a “controlled release” of chemicals on February 6.

The EPA collected the data between Feb. 4 and Feb. 21 and posted the data publicly, but without context indicating “potential concern about long-term health effects,” said Chiu, a professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M. While some of the highest air pollution readings reported by the EPA were collected in the days after the controlled release of the chemicals, some more recent samples still remain elevated, Chiu said.

“We can’t say whether these levels are causing the actual symptoms,” Chiu said. The EPA “would definitely want to make sure that these higher levels that are being detected will be reduced before they go away and declare everything cleaned up.”

Asked for comment on the analysis, an EPA official said the agency would respond “as soon as we can.” Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, and other federal and Ohio environmental officials have said the air pollutants would have been dispersed mostly in the days after the train crash and chemical release.

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