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Health dept. 'surprised' by decision to send toxic waste from Ohio train derailment to Indiana

It'll be about 100 truckloads of waste. The health department said it will be monitoring the movement of the materials and the plans ahead.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ind. — Health officials in Putnam County said they were shocked Tuesday by the news hazardous waste from a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, would be shipped to a local landfill. 

"Like many Putnam County residents, we were surprised by the decision of Norfolk Southern to send hazardous materials from the East Palestine train derailment to the Heritage Environmental Services landfill at Roachdale, Indiana," the Putnam County Health Department said in a release. 

But officials with the landfill where the materials will eventually go say that this is another day at work and they ensured the public that the materials they will be receiving are well below what's considered dangerous. 

"It's one of the most heavily regulated pieces of property in the United States," Ali Alavi, the executive vice president of Heritage Environmental, said of the landfill in Putnam County about six miles from Roachdale. 

And while the movement of the toxic waste came as a shock for the governor and health officials, Alavi said his company had communicated its plans. 

"I think when you have an emergency response situation, often communications get tangled up. We've been in contact with local representatives, U.S. representatives as well as the governor's office ... so we think we've at least done our part," Alavi said.

He also said that in the grand scheme, moving the hazardous waste to his landfill is the safe and environmentally conscious choice. 

"You have to look at the exposure scenarios there. That material was out in the open, spilled out into the environment and they did the controlled burn which led to the cloud of black smoke," Alavi said. "You know, here the material is closed off and sequestered and covered, double lined and heavily regulated. So there is no exposure, which tells me it's really the environmentally responsible thing to do."

Heritage Environmental Services claims its site will receive soils contaminated with low levels of butyl acrylate and extremely low levels of vinyl chloride.

It'll be about 100 truckloads of waste – transportation materials that Alavi said are highly regulated. The health department said it will be monitoring the movement of the materials and the plans ahead.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and work with our colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and Heritage Environmental Services," the health department said.

Butyl acrylate is a common chemical found in caulk, sealants and paints. Vinyl chloride is colorless and highly flammable. It is found in PVC pipes, plastic kitchenware and wire coatings, among other things. It is also a carcinogen.

Alavi said the levels of vinyl chloride they'll be receiving are well below the levels in which federal regulators say they're allowed to receive.

Federal regulators allow the landfill to receive six parts per million of vinyl chloride. Heritage Environmental Services is planning to receive .033 parts per million.

Alavi gave some context stating, "one part per million would be the equivalent of a cup of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool."

Heritage Environmental hasn't received the materials yet. They're still going through the processes of testing the materials at the train derailment site and getting approval to move them. 

Credit: AP
A view of the scene Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, as the cleanup continues at the site of of a Norfolk Southern freight train derailment that happened on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

Putnam County health officials also said they will perform well water testing around the Heritage Environmental site and make those results available to the public.

"We are thankful that, if these materials are brought to Indiana, they will be in the hands of the H.E.S. professionals who are regulated through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management," the health department said concluding its statement. 

About 1.8 million gallons of liquid waste have been collected from the derailment site, according to the Ohio EPA.

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