Lawmakers are urging Norfolk Southern and the U.S. EPA to give more detailed information about the waste management companies involved in handling contaminated water and soil from last month’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as well as timelines for when material will move and the locations of the facilities that will accept it.
During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Thursday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said he was “deeply sorry” for the impact the derailment has had on the local community and said the company will take full responsibility for cleanup efforts.
Yet several lawmakers said the company and the U.S. EPA need to be more transparent about certain aspects of the cleanup, such as why some of the material excavated from the derailment site had not been moved to permitted waste facilities since the Feb. 3 incident.
Planned shipments of waste to certain facilities, including sites in Michigan run by Republic Services and its subsidiary U.S. Ecology, were paused several weeks ago due to community pushback. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also asked the EPA to test material for dioxins before it could be accepted by a hazardous waste landfill run by Heritage Environmental Services. Test results released Wednesday showed the material did not contain harmful levels, the Indy Star reported.
Republic has not accepted material from the derailment site since the EPA temporarily paused shipments in late February, according to a spokesperson. The company did not say when or how it might continue to be involved in the cleanup. WM and Clean Harbors are also among those expected to be involved in managing waste from the derailment site, the Environmental Technology Council said in late February. Clean Harbors mentioned its involvement in the process during its March 1 earnings call.
West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a ranking member of the committee, expressed frustration that the public was hearing “mixed messages” about the cleanup plan. “When are you getting it out of there and where are you taking it?” she asked.
Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance added that the timeline for cleanup cannot lag any longer. He called for Norfolk Southern and the EPA, which are working closely together to coordinate the cleanup, to “aggressively get this stuff out of East Palestinian into properly licensed facilities.” Vance called that “maybe the most important and most pressing thing.”
Debra Shore, EPA Region 5 administrator, told lawmakers it was necessary to pause waste transportation plans to “conduct due diligence.” She said waste was moving off site as of March 9 to a number of EPA-approved locations that have the capacity and permits to accept it. The new test results on waste bound for Indiana should also speed up progress, she said.
Neither Shore nor Shaw named other anticipated waste management locations or timelines during the hearing, but Shaw told lawmakers the company will submit a list. Norfolk Southern did not respond to a request for comment.