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EPA-associated agency testing air for toxins allegedly got hundreds of locals near site of Norfolk Southern chemical inferno to sign contract to 'indemnify, release and hold harmless' testing groups
Photo by DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP via Getty Images

EPA-associated agency testing air for toxins allegedly got hundreds of locals near site of Norfolk Southern chemical inferno to sign contract to 'indemnify, release and hold harmless' testing groups

A resident of the Ohio village where derailed Norfolk Southern train cars were altogether transformed into a toxic inferno told nationally syndicated radio host and co-founder of Blaze Media Glenn Beck that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency affiliates were pushing contracts on locals, purportedly looking to minimize liability around air monitoring tests.

What's the background?

Katlyn Schwarzwaelder is a resident of East Palestine, Ohio, the epicenter of Norfolk Southern Railways' recent ecological disaster, which reportedly killed countless animals in the area and has left a number of locals complaining of bleary eyes and breathing difficulties.

Schwarzwaelder also operates the Von Schwarz Doberman Kennel in nearby Darlington, Pennsylvania, a little over a mile away from the blast site.

Chemical and Engineering News reported that Schwarzwaelder, who managed to get her dogs and horse out of the area, has taken calls from locals who have observed fish, chickens, foxes, dogs, and other animals dying without warning in the aftermath of the derailment and controlled breach.

"I got a call yesterday from a person who lives 1.5 miles away from the derailment area,” she said. “They let their 2-year-old healthy dog out to go to the bathroom, and the dog never returned inside. He was dead in the yard."

While Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) and other officials have announced that evacuated residents in and around East Palestine can now safely return home, Schwarzwaelder isn't so sure, particularly when at least one gas used as a weapon of mass slaughter in World War One was released overhead.

TheBlaze previously reported that the thick column of smoke that darkened the sky above East Palestine after the derailment contained fumes from the toxic chemicals stored in the wrecked cars, such as vinyl chloride, hydrogen chloride, and phosgene.

The EPA also cautioned Norfolk Southern that an additional three chemicals were aboard the breached and derailed trains: ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene.

Silverado Caggiano, a hazardous materials specialist, told WKBN that ethylhexyl acrylate is a carcinogen that can cause burning and irritation in the skin and eyes, as well as breathing problems. He noted that isobutylene can also cause dizziness and drowsiness if inhaled.

Phosgene, used in warfare at the turn of the 20th century, can result in chest constriction and choking.

Some of the other toxins released can have similarly debilitating and deadly consequences.

After residents were coaxed into returning home to East Palestine, Norfolk Southern- and EPA-associated groups reportedly continued to test the air for potentially harmful toxins.

Broad contracts

In conversation with Glenn Beck Wednesday, Schwarzwaelder indicated that East Palestine residents were told by Norfolk [Southern Railway] personnel "that the agencies that were coming to our homes to test were from independent laboratories."

Despite this suggestion, Schwarzwaelder noted that an individual with the environmental consulting firm CTEH LLC had been camped out front of her house on the night of the derailment, who told her, "We follow around the railroad when they make mistakes and they are happy to have us here."

Those testing Schwarzwaelder's air reportedly handed her a release form authorizing "Norfolk Southern, its affiliates, subsidiaries, parents, contractors, associated environmental professionals, and assisting local, state, and federal agencies, including but not limited to CTEH LLC and any of their personnel (collectively, 'Monitoring Team') to access the Property for air monitoring or environmental sampling."

"Landowner agrees to indemnify, release, and hold harmless Unified Command from and against any and all legal claims, including for personal injury or property damage, arising from Monitoring Team's performance of air monitoring or environmental sampling at the Property on the date of signature below," the contract added.

While the contracts appear specific to the "Monitoring Team's performance of air monitoring or environmental sampling," it is presently unclear whether the legalese may be broad enough to cover injuries resulting from inaccurate measurements.

Furthermore, it is unclear whether lawyers for the railway or others named as members of the "Monitoring Team" could at some later stage suggest that inaccurate measurements for which their affiliates would be indemnified — contra the derailment and subsequent controlled breach of dangerous fumes — were ultimately responsible for potential injuries and damages (e.g., carcinomas, breathing issues, and crop failures).

Schwarzwaelder refused to sign the release form, but indicated 340 other residents did sign the document.

"My heart just breaks for these people. We don't know the long-term repercussions of what these chemicals can do in our air, to our environment, to our homes, to our businesses. And they signed their rights away in the hopes that they're getting help and the right answers from these organizations," Schwarzwaelder told Beck.

"What I can tell you first hand is that CTEH, the affiliate of Norfolk that came to test the air, was followed by the EPA. ... We said, 'Can the EPA by themselves come into our kennel? We do not sign this paper,' and 'Can they test themselves because they are a government organization that has the ability, they have the testing equipment with them?' And the answer was, 'Absolutely not.'"

Contamination and liability

The EPA sent Norfolk Southern a general notice of potential liability over the weekend, outlining EPA cleanup actions and the possibility that the railway will have to foot the bill, reported CBS News.

With schools of fish floating belly-up down nearby streams and rivers, residents are now especially concerned about possible water contamination.

CBS News reported that this fear has been exacerbated by a 2019 drinking water source assessment conducted by the Ohio EPA that indicated East Palestine's source of drinking water has a "high susceptibility to contamination" because of a lack of clay helping protect the aquifer and "the presence of significant potential contaminant sources in the protection area."

The assessment notes, "This susceptibility means that under currently existing conditions, the likelihood of the aquifer becoming contaminated is relatively high."

WKBN reported that the EPA recently castigated Norfolk Southern for simply covering up contaminated soil in the aftermath of the derailment.

"Five railcar tankers of vinyl chloride were intentionally breached; the vinyl chloride was diverted to an excavated trench and then burned off. Areas of contaminated soil and free liquids were observed and potentially covered and/or filled during reconstruction of the rail line including portions of the trench /burn pit that was used for the open burn off of vinyl chloride," said the letter.

According to an EPA fact sheet, vinyl chloride — one of the primary toxins spilled and burned up over East Palestine — "will be expected to be highly mobile in soil and it may leach to the groundwater. It may be subject to biodegradation under anaerobic conditions such as exists in flooded soil and groundwater."

"Based on epidemiological and animal studies, vinyl chloride is carcinogenic in humans when inhaled, and it is considered to be a human carcinogen from oral exposure," the fact sheet added.

WITNESS: Train derailment causing ‘WAR ZONE’ scenes in Ohioyoutu.be

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News. He lives in a small town with his wife and son, moonlighting as an author of science fiction.
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