Independent analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data concerning the fallout of the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, has revealed that, contrary to previous claims made by EPA officials, there continue to be abnormally high levels of airborne toxins that could jeopardize the long-term health of residents in the area.
A team of researchers from Texas A&M have scrutinized EPA data and found elevated levels of chemicals known to cause not only various symptoms including headaches and eye and lung irritation, but possibly also cancer.
Researchers noted in a Friday Twitter post that the levels of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene — "a group of volatile chemicals referred to as 'BTEX'" — appeared to be similar to "normal" levels.
However, they also noted that "some concentrations in East Palestine (OH) for 9 out of ~50 chemicals EPA reported are higher than 'normal.' If these levels continue, they may be of health concern (especially acrolein)."
The CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry noted that acrolein, a pesticide, is "used to make chemical weapons" at higher concentrations.
If breathed in at low levels for a short time, then individuals exposed may experience watery eyes and sore throats. Those exposed to higher levels may see their lungs "affected more severely and for a longer time. Breathing in very high levels of acrolein might affect your lungs so severely that you might die."
The agency indicated, "No one knows if breathing or eating acrolein or spilling it on your skin causes birth defects, affects your ability to have children, or causes cancer. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has not classified acrolein as to its carcinogenicity."
"In animal studies, ingestion of very large amounts of acrolein during pregnancy caused reduced birth weights and skeletal deformities in newborns. However, the levels causing these effects were often fatal to the mother," revealed the ATSDR.
According to the Texas A&M researchers' analysis of the EPA data, the "[hazard quotient] for median in East Palestine" after the derailment was 7. The "[hazard quotient] for highest in East Palestine" was 40.
Both these figures are significantly higher than the norm. The "HQ for median county in USA (EPA NATA 2014)" was 0.89, and the "HQ for highest county in USA" was 6.1.
Weihsueh Chiu, a professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M, told the Washington Post that while the EPA publicly posted the data it had collected between Feb. 4 and Feb. 21, it provided it without context that shows "potential concern about long-term health effects."
"We can’t say whether these levels are causing the current symptoms," said Chiu, adding that the EPA "would want to definitely make sure that these higher levels that are detected would be reduced before they left and declared everything cleaned up."
Michael Regan, the Biden-nominated administrator of the EPA, claimed in the wake of Norfolk Southern's release of various toxins, including a gas used as a weapon of mass slaughter in World War I, that "if your home has been tested and you've been given the green light, the air is safe."
Regan doubled down this week, telling NPR, "With the air quality analysis we've done — and we're using some of the most, you know, high-experience technology that we have for both air and water — the data is coming back demonstrating that there are no levels of concern for adverse health impacts."
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