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Ex-EPA Administrator Doubts Agency's East Palestine Claims: 'Hard to Believe They Were Silent' Before Norfolk Southern Detonated Toxic Vinyl Chloride Cars
"They should have spoken up," Judith Enck, former EPA regional administrator for Region 2, tells Status Coup about EPA's claim it wasn't consulted by Norfolk Southern before detonating toxic gases
As the EPA backtracks away from months of parroting Norfolk Southern’s claims of having performed a “controlled burn” of five cars of toxic vinyl chloride in East Palestine—now refusing to answer Status Coup on whether the railroad company actually initiated a banned open burn detonation—there’s growing doubt regarding the agency’s recent claims that it wasn’t consulted before the detonation on February 6th.
“I find it hard to believe that they were silent,” Judith Enck, former EPA administrator for region 2, told Status Coup. Enck, who bluntly stated the detonation was an “open burn with no pollution controls.” As Status Coup previously reported, the EPA banned open burn detonations in 1980 due to the risks posed to “human health and the environment.”
Enck called the open burn over East Palestine “unprecedented” and criticized the EPA for not doing more to stop it: “If EPA was in the room when the decision was made, they should have spoken up.”
Enck noted that Status Coup had the first documentation of the EPA acknowledging that the original plan, two days after the derailment, was to “vent and burn” of one car of Vinyl Chloride—but according to EPA official Mark Durno, the agency learned on Monday, February 6th, “we learned they made the decision to vent and burn five cars.” By all indications, the they Durno was referring to was Norfolk Southern—a potentially incriminating discrepancy considering CEO Alan Shaw testified to the U.S. Senate that it was the local fire chief Keith Drabick who made the ultimate decision to perform the so-called “controlled burn” over East Palestine.
See Durno explain this below during a community meeting in East Palestine on March 28th.
When the EPA was repeatedly asked by Status Coup about its apparent contradiction—still referring to the process as a “controlled burn” that it wasn’t consulted on but then refusing to answer whether it was, in fact, a prohibited open burn—the agency did not answer.
Enck isn’t the only former or current environmental or emergency official to question the decision to vent and burn five cars of vinyl chloride—a highly toxic gas linked to higher rates of liver and lung cancer along with liver disease, miscarriage, and neurological problems.
“Jaw dropping,” Eric Brewer, the Emergency Management Director for Beaver County Pennsylvania, said about the decision to increase the number of cars being “vented and burned” from one to five in less than 24 hours.
“Who decided that and how?” Enck posed as a question to Status Coup about the decision to perform what she and other experts deemed was clearly a prohibited open burn detonation
Weeks after the derailment and detonation of vinyl chloride cars, Randy Padfield, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency [PEMA], testified on February 23rd that when Pennsylvania authorities pressed Norfolk Southern on its decision to “vent and burn” five vinyl chloride cars, the railroad company was “not able to articulate” any other processes they considered before deciding on the “vent and burn.” From a regulatory perspective, this is important: EPA’s regulations that prohibit open burning detonation allows it only as a last resort after first responders undergo a rigorous process of evaluating, and then re-evaluating, what safer alternatives exist.
Padfield’s testimony suggests Norfolk Southern did not consider safer alternatives.
Nearly four months after the Norfolk Southern train derailment and what seems to have actually been a prohibited open burn detonation, residents Status Coup has spoken with shared a long list of ongoing and worsening health problems they're dealing with:
Numb lips and tongue
Numbness in back of neck
Chemical taste in mouth
Irregular menstrual cycles in women
"Everybody is lawyering up,” a source familiar with the EPA’s response to the East Palestine disaster told Status Coup about the agency declining to answer whether the railroad company’s process was, in fact, an open burn detonation on the five vinyl chloride cars.
Norfolk Southern did not respond to request for comment for this story.
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