Independent laboratory tests found elevated levels of chemicals of concern in the air near East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment


A mobile lab monitoring air pollution at the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in eastern Palestine, Ohio, found a chemical of potential concern at higher than normal levels, a team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Texas A&M said at a briefing on Friday. Researchers said it’s not yet clear what effects the chemical acrolein might have on residents’ health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave residents the green light to return home shortly after the February 3 derailment and subsequent controlled burning. The agency, along with local and state environmental experts, took samples from the air, soil, water and residents’ homes. Many local residents have reported worrying health symptoms, including rashes and headaches, in the weeks since the derailment.

Information in the new analysis was collected on February 20 and 21, university researchers said. The mobile lab, housed in a van, sucks in air above the driver’s head while driving slowly on public roads. It collects data points every second, the team said, and the unit has sensitive equipment that can measure pollution in parts per billion; You can identify even the smallest concentrations of pollutants that would otherwise be undetectable.

(1/3) Mobile air sampling/data analysis by @CAPS_CMU & @tamusuperfund matches @EPA data (2023-08-22) for benzene, toluene, xylene and vinyl chloride. All values ​​below #ATSDR minimum risk levels for intermediate exposures (15 days to 1 year) and no “hot spots” detected by mobile sampling

— Texas A&M Superfund Research Center (@tamusuperfund) March 3, 2023

The lab found levels of benzene, toluene, xylenes and vinyl chloride to be below the minimum risk levels for intermediate exposures set by the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Agency.

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The team said Friday no “hot spots” were discovered by their mobile sampling, and the analysis confirms data collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency between February 8 and 22.

“We didn’t see any hotspots, which I think is probably a positive,” said Albert Presto, associate research professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon’s Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, who works at the university’s chemical watchdog in East Palestine. “I would say there is a need for further investigation and continued sampling” of potential risks, particularly from the chemical acrolein.

Acrolein was also below the minimum risk level, but it was the only chemical that was particularly high, the researchers said. Compared to the values ​​in downtown Pittsburgh, values ​​in the East Palestine region on February 20 were five times lower and three times higher.

Acrolein is used to combat plants, algae, rodents and microorganisms. It is a clear liquid at room temperature and is toxic; It can cause inflammation and irritation of the skin, respiratory tract, and mucous membranes, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While acrolein was not on the list of chemicals carried in the derailed train cars, it can be produced when fuel, wood and plastics are burned, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon researchers say the test method the EPA uses to measure acrolein in the scene has a cut-off value that’s too high to detect health-related levels.

“The methodology currently used by the EPA is not very sensitive and acrolein is a difficult chemical to evaluate,” said Dr. Ivan Rusyn, director of Texas A&M University’s Superfund Research Center, part of the team that conducted the analysis. “This may not be the only concern. They need to take a closer look at other types of contaminants, and a mobile lab allows for that.”

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The university researchers previously shared results of an initial analysis of the EPA’s data that suggested nine of the dozens of chemicals the agency monitored were higher levels than would typically be found in the area. Researchers said this could be a problem for residents’ health in the long term.

CNN has reached out to the EPA for comment on the new analysis. On Monday, a spokesman for the agency told CNN that the agency’s air monitoring data shows levels of the monitored chemicals are “below levels of concern about adverse health effects from short-term exposures.” The agency did not expect chemicals in the region to remain at high levels, but said it was “committed to staying in eastern Palestine and will continue to monitor the air inside and outside homes to ensure those levels are within range.” stay safe in time”.

Rusyn said they are pleased that the EPA has announced it will also be using a mobile lab to conduct additional testing. Scientists need to continue monitoring acrolein and other compounds in the region to determine if exposures persist, he said.

“Part of the reason to keep testing — at least at some intervals after the event — to determine these trends is really for communication purposes, to really reassure residents that you know the level and to explain to them where the levels are after the.” Disaster levels were compared to some sort of baseline,” Rusyn said.

Rusyn said it’s too early to know if elevated levels are affecting residents’ health.

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“We can’t draw many conclusions about possible health effects because the reported levels are below the detection limit, but also the health thresholds are below the detection limit. So there are additional or different methods that are more sensitive, take more time and are more sophisticated, and we hope that in the future authorities will use some of these methods as well,” Rusyn said.