Officials Say the EPA Did Not Declare a Public Health Emergency In East Palestine

( – In February 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. In the days and weeks after, the area was evacuated and treated, but it’s recently come to light that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) never deemed the incident as a public health emergency.

In an exclusive, The Associated Press details how federal officials said that the EPA didn’t issue the designation because of a lack of documentation of the chemical exposures or widespread health issues. The Government Accountability Project (GAP), a whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, filed a public records request, which yielded several emails. In them, Mark Durno, the EPA response coordinator, said the label doesn’t apply to East Palestine because the agency has “not had any environmental data.” Additionally, the EPA said there was no need to declare a public health emergency because it had the legal authority to respond.

Yet, area residents aren’t so sure. They point to widespread conditions that have been prominent in the days since the exposure, which was made worse by blowing the cars containing chemicals open. Lesley Pacey, who works as an environmental investigator with the GAP, said she speaks with “residents all the time and they’re having new seizures pop up, cancers.” She further notes that “a lot of the damage has already been done to these people.”

However, despite the lack of designation, the EPA did let the train company know that it was responsible for damages, including the health effects it had on residents. It has spent more than $1 billion so far in its response, which includes $104 million it allocated to direct aid for the town and its residents. Plus, cleanup efforts are ongoing, and expected to be completed later this year.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, but its report isn’t due out for a few months yet.

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