(AP/WJW) — Erin Brockovich says she’s hosting a Town Hall event in East Palestine on Friday to “work with victims of (the) toxic train derailment so they can get justice, know their legal rights and so (they) can hold the railroad accountable,” according to a tweet.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at East Palestine High on West Grant Street.
Erin Brockovich, an environmental advocate, is best known as the subject of the film “Erin Brockovich” which tells the story of her involvement in a lawsuit against utility giant PG&E.
Norfolk Southern donates to East Palestine High School, fire department
Norfolk Southern announced Friday they donated $300,000, to the East Palestine City School District to support the district’s academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, and its long-term contingency planning regarding the impacts of the derailment, according to a press release.
The release says each of the district’s three schools — East Palestine Elementary, East Palestine Middle, and East Palestine High schools — will receive $100,000.
Also, on Friday the company says they reimbursed the Village of East Palestine Fire Department approximately $825,000 for fire equipment used in the derailment response.
According to the press release, the company says their donations to East Palestine schools and the fire department bring the company’s financial commitment to East Palestine to nearly $8 million.
Toxic wastewater sent away for disposal
Toxic wastewater used to extinguish a fire following a train derailment in Ohio has been transported to a Houston suburb for disposal, according to a county official in Texas who said there are outstanding questions about the transportation and disposal of the material.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a press conference Thursday that 500,000 gallons (1.8 million liters) of the wastewater had been delivered to Deer Park, Texas.
“I know that our community was taken aback by the news just as I was,” Hidalgo said. “I also want folks to know there are many things we don’t know that we should know. That doesn’t mean that something is wrong. And I want to stress that point.”
Hidalgo said the county on Wednesday learned of the wastewater transfer from the site of a fiery Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which prompted evacuations when toxic chemicals were burned after being released from five derailed tanker rail cars carrying vinyl chloride that were in danger of exploding.
The wastewater has been delivered to Texas Molecular, which injects hazardous waste into the ground for disposal. The company told KHOU-TV it is experienced in managing this type of disposal.
“Our technology safely removes hazardous constituents from the biosphere. We are part of the solution to reduce risk and protect the environment, whether in our local area or other places that need the capabilities we offer to protect the environment,” the company said.
Hidalgo said Texas Molecular informed county officials that it had taken delivery of a half million gallons of firefighting water with the expectation of an additional 1.5 million gallons hauled to the site by about 30 trucks per day.
“It’s a very real problem we were told yesterday the materials were coming only to learn today they’ve been here for a week,” said Hidalgo, who wants more information on precautions taken at the injection well.
The delivery also raises questions about the methods of transport, which she said may include trains, and the possible health impact on workers involved in the transfers and the communities between the Ohio crash site and the disposal area in Deer Park, one of 34 communities in Harris County.
Uncertainties remain even after discussions between the county and officials from the federal Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and other industry and environment experts, Hidalgo said.
“The government officials have readily provided the information they have, but what we’re learning is that they themselves don’t seem to have the full information,” she said. “I’m not clear on who has the full picture of what is happening here and that is a problem.
She noted Harris County has around 10 injection wells capable of receiving hazardous commercial waste, making the area one of the few places where the materials could be disposed. But she said there are similar facilities in Vickery, Ohio, and Romulus, Michigan, that also could handle the wastewater and are located closer to the crash site.
“There may be logistical reasons for all of this. There may be economic reasons. Perhaps Texas Molecular outbid the Michigan facility,” Hidalgo said. “It doesn’t mean there’s something nefarious going on, but we do need to know the answer to this question.”
Hidalgo added that she first learned Harris County was the disposal site from a journalist, “not from a regulatory agency, not from the company,” which she said was “unacceptable.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told KTRK-TV that Texas Molecular “is authorized to accept and manage a variety of waste streams, including vinyl chloride, as part of their … hazardous waste permit and underground injection control permit.”
Dr. George Guillen, executive director of the Environmental Institute of Houston, said the chemical is “very, very toxic” but the risk to the public is minimal.
“This injection, in some cases, is usually 4,000 or 5,000 feet down below any kind of drinking water aquifer,” said Guillen, a University of Houston-Clear Lake professor of biology and environmental science.
Guillen and Deer Park resident Tammy Baxter said their greatest concerns are transporting the chemicals more than 1,300 miles (2,090 kilometers) from East Palestine to Deer Park.
“There has to be a closer deep well injection,” Baxter told KTRK. “It’s foolish to put it on the roadway. We have accidents on a regular basis … It is silly to move it that far.”
NTSB releases preliminary investigation report
The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released their preliminary investigation report of the train derailment on Feb. 3.
The report spells out the timeline of events leading up to the derailment, saying the train had been experiencing problems before reaching East Palestine.
The investigation is continuing on the wheel bearing, the accident response and inspection practices. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy and Robert J. Hall, director of the NTSB’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials, discussed the report and rail safety Thursday at the NTSB headquarters.
The roller bearings that were on the derailed car have a finite lifespan, she said — typically between 100,000 and 300,000 miles. The overheating could have been caused by fatigue cracking, water damage, mechanical damage, a loose bearing or a wheel defect.
It’s unclear what caused the overheating, but it’s something the board will review, she said.
Had the overheating bearing been detected earlier, “that derailment might not have occurred,” Homendy said.
“This was 100% preventable,” she said. “We’ve never seen an accident that wasn’t preventable. Nothing is an accident.”
Click here for the full report.
Pete Buttigieg’s visit to derailment site on Thursday
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited the derailment site Thursday, has warned the railroad responsible for the derailment, Norfolk Southern, to fulfill its promises to clean up the mess just outside East Palestine and help the town recover.
Buttigieg also has announced a package of reforms intended to improve rail safety while regulators try to strengthen safety rules.
He implored the company to “stop fighting” the federal administration on safety regulations.
Buttigieg explained there were changes made in railroad safety regulations during the previous administration, which ended two years ago.
ODNR releases findings on impact to wildlife
The number of fish and other aquatic creatures killed after a train derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, dumping toxic chemicals into 7 1/2 miles of waterways around the crash site, is estimated to be more than 43,000, state officials announced Thursday.
The department’s initial sampling showed 3,500 dead aquatic species, mostly minnows and small fish, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz said Thursday. That was based on visual observation on Feb. 6 and Feb. 7.
“It’s important to stress that these small fish are all believed to have been killed immediately after the derailment,” Mertz said. “Because the chemicals were contained, ODNR has not seen any additional signs of aquatic life suffering in the streams. In fact, we have seen live fish return to Leslie Run.”
The dead fish were disposed, to keep other animals from feeding on them, she said.
The department is awaiting test results on non-aquatic species including three birds and an opossum, but they do not believe those animals were affected.