East Palestine: Expert examines clean-up plan, offers insight, concerns
Norfolk Southern provided the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency with a preliminary remedial action work plan for cleaning up the hazardous materials from the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine.
21 News asked Earth Science professor Kuldeep Singh with Kent State University to review the clean-up plan taking place and moving forward.
Singh looked over the plan submitted on February 10 by Arcadis, an international company hired by the railroad to come up with a plan for cleaning up the air, ground, and water in the village, and shares what he sees in the plan.
Singh said the report showed the officials were diligent in getting the response team to get samples of the soil and the removal of the dirt that was contaminated by the hazardous chemicals from the derailment.
While Singh feels the air and ground portion of the clean-up has gone well, he says he is more concerned about the water near the village.
He feels after 10 days, the hazardous contaminants from the spill will eventually make it into the groundwater table. There are lots of variables that impact the rate of contamination in water, including the soil type, drainage along with rain or snow melt. And once the contaminants reach the water, clean-up becomes more challenging, it will flow and spread, potentially impacting significant areas around the spill.
Part of the plan to contain the hazardous chemicals is to skim the water to capture any contaminants that would it into near rivers, tributaries or even the Ohio River, where the compounds are lighter than water and would float downstream.
However, one of the chemicals Singh saw on the report is heavier than water, which would be harder to get out the longer it remains in the water and would become more costlier to remove.
But Singh says because he hasn't seen any water contamination levels at this point, he can't say how much or little of a concern he is, but said the Emergency Response teams need to move quickly.
The Earth Science professor said that contaminants on the surface would evaporate and become and air quality concern, so that is why removal of the surface water and dirt is very important to the clean-up efforts.
Singh said there are two phases in the contaminant migration, the one on top of the water and the denser particles, which may take years to properly clean, up to a decade.
Aquifers, or water tables, are fairly shallow in Ohio Singh added, and even if clay soil slows the progression, eventually the contaminants would reach the water source.
The professor stated that rain will cause the contaminants to drop quicker in the soil, and Singh said it would only take days for water to seep up to 10 feet into the soil.
Singh said that groundwater flows from highest to lower evaluations, which is much faster than through the soil, but waterways such as rivers is the fastest spread concern but said it appeared the contanimation plume may be headed in the direction of the village.
While the are chemical or bioremediation options to clean the water, Singh said they may have its concerns over time, and sometimes natural remediation is best, allowing it to dilute only is it no longer an issue.
The concern for the spread of contaminations is long-term health concern and could be harmful to farm animals and people Singh said.
Signh said that the water table concern from this incident is not expected to go beyond a few miles from the spill.
But he added that East Palestine is not alone in the clean-up efforts, that hundreds of communities around the state have done or are in the midst of cleaning up water contamination.