Reconstruction estimates East Palestine derailment soot drifted into Mahoning, Trumbull, Mercer Counties
Scientists are now saying that soot from the controlled burn of toxic chemicals following the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine may have settled in Mahoning and Trumbull Counties in Ohio as well as Mercer, Lawrence, and Beaver County in Pennsylvania.
That’s according to a map prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency by the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center based on weather conditions in the hours following the February 6 burning of chemicals leaking from the cars which derailed three days earlier.
Fearing that the cars would explode, officials decided it would be safer to initiate what they called a “controlled burn”, sending a plume of smoke high into the clouds over East Palestine.
To help evaluate soils most likely impacted by smoke and soot from the vent and burn operation, the EPA requested the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center to create a reconstruction model and map estimating the extent and concentration of soot deposited into the environment.
Working under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center coordinates and disseminates federal atmospheric dispersion modeling and hazard prediction information.
Looking at actual meteorological data that occurred up to ten hours after the burn began, analysts worked under the assumption that at the train derailment site, 90% of the total amount of vinyl chloride and 90% of the total available mass of other compounds such as ethylene glycol, ethyl hexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate were burned. This is because some material was initially spilled prior to the vent and burn operation, according to the EPA.
The deposition of soot, which falls out of the air when it cools, was calculated over a ten-hour period, which included six hours of burning plus an additional four hours of transport after burning.
Weather from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that winds that were initially blowing toward the southeast later shifted toward the north and northwest.
As reported in the news and seen by observers, the smoke was trapped from rising higher into the atmosphere due to an inversion layer at around 3,000 feet, according to the EPA.
Based on best estimates of the situation at the time of and during the vent and burn, the map shows the heaviest downwind concentration of soot around an 8-mile by 2-mile area around Ohioville Township in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The concentration of soot at 0.1 milligrams per square meter is approximately equal to 0.014 ounces of soot per acre of land.
The map showed concentrations of half as much soot (concentrations of .05 milligrams per square meter) in an area surrounding the higher Ohioville concentration.
That map estimates the same soot concentration in a region stretching from Route 711 and along either side of Route 11 from Youngstown’s Northside, through Liberty Township and southern Vienna Township.
The reconstruction included a third zone of lesser soot concentration estimates of .01 milligrams per square meter surrounding the other two zones. Communities in that zone include Warren, Sharon, Niles, Austintown, Youngstown, Canfield, Boardman, Struthers, and Columbiana.
Ironically, East Palestine is included in the third lowest soot category.
As a result of the model, the EPA says its Phase 1 Residential/Commercial/Agricultural Soil Sampling Plan was amended to target properties around the highest estimated soot concentration.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in coordination with EPA, expanded sampling efforts even further.
According to the EPA, the sample results indicate that impacts from the smoke and soot were minimal.
One of the families of chemicals sampled were Dioxins and Furans. According to the EPA, all results fall within typical background ranges for rural and urban soils.
It remains to be seen if the reconstruction will figure into the class action negligence lawsuit filed against Norfolk Southern by residents and businesses who claim to have been harmed by the spill and subsequent burn.
Responding to the lawsuit recently, attorneys for Norfolk Southern noted that the class action seeks to represent half a million people covering 3,000 square miles in three states within a 30-mile radius around the derailment.
The railroad questioned the conclusion that “smoke and particulate plume somehow uniformly traveled 30 miles in every direction, despite, for example, varying atmospheric conditions; and that the traveling plume caused unspecified economic loss, property damage, and increased health risk.”