EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Just over a year ago, a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine. Since then, the railroad has been working with the EPA to clean up the site.

One scientist and self-described whistleblower said he has discovered documents on the EPA’s website that show elevated levels of dioxins early on after the derailment.

What You Need To Know

  • A scientist claims he uncovered documents that show EPA testing for dioxins sooner than originally thought

  • EPA disputes that these tests were hidden from the public

  • EPA documents show elevated levels of dioxins in initial tests

“You can’t find what you aren’t looking for,” said Scott Smith, an independent scientist. He has done testing at nearly 30 different sites in and around East Palestine after the Norfolk Southern train derailment there on Feb. 3 last year.

Smith said residents asked him to test where the EPA and Norfolk Southern haven’t tested or won’t test.

“I thought I was going to be there for just for two trips like I normally do, to try to help a community figure out what’s in their water and soil and whatnot. That has developed into now 23 trips and 27 rounds of testing,” said Smith. “I’ve tested creek banks, sediment, soil, surfaces in homes, surfaces like siding on homes, surfaces of furnace filters.”

Many of the people impacted by the derailment began to demand testing for dioxins — toxic, carcinogenic compounds that can be created when burning chemicals like the vinyl chloride, which was on the train that derailed.

The EPA issued a statement in March of last year saying based on those concerns, it would require Norfolk Southern to test directly for dioxins and if dioxins were found at a level that posed any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment, the EPA would direct the immediate cleanup of the areas as needed.

But Smith said he has uncovered EPA documents which show the agency began testing for dioxins in the area as early as Feb. 17 last year.

“Norfolk Southern and the EPA knew since Feb. 17 that they had a 91.9 TEQ which is about 19 times higher than what their own contractor, Arcadis, set as a screening action level for follow up testing of 4.8,” said Smith.

TEQ stands for toxic equivalency. It measures the toxicity of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds.

The EPA refutes that these documents were not openly made available to the public.

“EPA became aware of a report claiming that EPA failed to openly share data, particularly the waste-characterization data that was collected in February 2023 related to dioxin and furan compounds. Recent reporting on this issue is inaccurate and mis-characterizes EPA’s response and commitment to transparency,” said EPA in a statement.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is supporting Smith. It’s an organization that represents and protects whistleblowers.

“The reason that Government Accountability Project is involved with Scott Smith and involved with this particular disaster is the residents and what’s happening to them in their lives,” said Lesley Pacey, an Environmental Investigator with the GAP. She believes residents should be relocated away from East Palestine if they choose and the railroad should pay for it.

“People are having rashes all over their bodies, headaches, stomach issues,” said Pacey.

Smith said he has tested near the derailment site and in Pennsylvania where the plume of smoke from the vent and burn of the railcars traveled.

“About 60% of my results are within background. Background is where there is no contamination event like the derailment. Around 40% are hot zones,” said Smith.

He said at the very minimum, those hot spots need to be retested then based on those results, residents should have the option to relocate and have Norfolk Southern pay for it.