One scientist criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to test for dioxins, a cancer-causing chemical “undoubtedly” found around eastern Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the Feb. 6 controlled detonation in response to the train derailment.
Stephen Lester, scientific director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, told WKBN he has no doubt dioxins were released during the controlled burning of vinyl chloride in eastern Palestine last month.
The scientist said the EPA’s decision not to test for the highly toxic chemical compound was a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”
US EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore said the agency is not currently testing for dioxins.
“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have the basic information in that area to do a proper test. But we’re going to talk to our toxicologist and look into it,” Shore said.
Dioxins are highly toxic pollutants that can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and damage to the immune system, WKBN noted.
“I think they’re reluctant to test because they know they’re going to find it and they’re being taken to a place where they’re going to have to deal with it,” Lester told the outlet, adding that exposure to dioxins to severe types of dioxins can lead to cancer. He added:
The level of dioxins that can get into a body, human, animal, cow and cause health problems is extremely low. It doesn’t take very much. I would be very concerned if I had a farm, especially if I were aware of how some people described at that meeting that the black cloud from the fire had settled on their property.
Lester explained that dioxins can take decades to fully break down and dissolve, adding that once released, they can settle on surfaces, plants, water and soil.
The EPA administrator reportedly responded to a letter from Senators JD Vance (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in which he appeared to be trying to downplay dioxins by suggesting they were also produced by “backyard crickets.” .
“Our toxicologists are checking. Unfortunately, we don’t have basic information about dioxin levels, which are also produced by wildfires, backyard crickets and many other things,” Shore said.
But Lester said he’s “never heard anyone, not a researcher, talk about cookouts” when speaking about dioxins.
“That’s a negligible concentration, if any, because dioxins don’t just form because there’s a fire, you need a source of chlorine,” he said.
Lester added that the EPA should still be able to test for dioxins to determine whether levels in the environment are endangering local residents — even if there’s no “baseline information” on dioxin levels allegedly produced by other agencies became.
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