How to “make something good” out of East Palestine, Ohio, a train disaster? Vinyl chloride ban, says former EPA official

Outrage over last month’s Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, continued this week as former regional EPA administrator Judith Enck called on the agency to ban vinyl chloride, the carcinogenic chemical that caused the crash.

Enck, in an interview Thursday, said the goal of the petition by environmental group Beyond Plastics, which she leads, is to step up reforms after the Feb. 3 derailment, which prompted emergency crews to ventilate five railcars on Feb. 6. vinyl chloride—a flammable and toxic gas used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic—and set fire to the chemical to prevent shrapnel from exploding in a small town near the Pennsylvania state line.

Since then, residents have complained of headaches and nausea and have expressed concern about long-term health effects, dead fish in local waters and declining property values.

“We want to move away from vinyl chloride so we don’t have East Palestine anymore,” said Enk, founder and president of Beyond Plastics. “We’re going to do a massive campaign. The science is so solid.”

Judith Enk, founder and president of environmental group Beyond Plastics, speaks at a workshop at Bennington College in August. Credit: James Bruggers

The ban on vinyl chloride, according to Enck, “is the only positive result of this.”

New York-based Enk served and oversaw the EPA region, which includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and eight Indian countries during the Obama administration. She founded Beyond Plastics in 2019 and teaches at Bennington College in Vermont.

The American Chemical Council, a chemical and plastics industry lobby group, did not respond to a request for comment. However, the organization’s president and CEO, Chris Yang, released a statement about the crash late last month.

“People are understandably worried and wondering why we ship chemicals, including those classified as hazardous materials,” Yang said. “We send them because they are needed all over the country and are indispensable in everyday life. Chemicals are critical to providing safe drinking water, ensuring an abundant food supply, producing life-saving medicines and medical equipment, and producing many types of energy.

“The impact of the crash on the East Palestinian community highlights the need for continued attention to security. We must strive to meet the daily needs of the nation by safely delivering materials.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board showed that the derailed equipment included eleven tank cars filled with hazardous materials, which subsequently ignited, starting a fire that damaged 12 more derailed cars. First responders called for a one-mile-wide evacuation zone that would affect up to 2,000 residents. The NTSB partially blamed an overheated wheel bearing for the derailment of a 149-car train.

Vinyl chloride and environmental justice

A ban on vinyl chloride would effectively eliminate PVC, the building industry’s main building material commonly used in siding and windows. It is also found in products such as floor tiles, roofing, tents, toys, pipes, and food packaging. The European Vinyl Manufacturers Council touts PVC as a solution for food waste because it is flexible and durable, and in the form of containers or films does not allow water or oxygen to pass through.

PVC, which some critics have called the worst kind of plastic, contains many chemical additives such as phthalate plasticizers, some of which are accused of disrupting the human endocrine system. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has restricted the use of some, but not all, phthalates in food packaging due to health and safety concerns.

Last month, Dr. Philip Landrigan, pediatrician, epidemiologist and director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College and the Global Planetary Health Observatory, told Inside Climate News that PVC has problems at every stage of its life cycle, from potential hazards to workers who make This. Researchers in the 1970s first linked workplace exposure to vinyl chloride to a rare form of cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver, in rubber workers at a factory at the Rubbertown chemical plant complex in Louisville, Kentucky. Landgrand said there is evidence that it can also cause brain cancer and that toxic ingredients in PVC can “leach out of plastic products and end up in drinking water or blood products.”

The Beyond Plastics petition, also supported by Hip Hop Caucus, a non-profit organization that encourages young people to participate in the democratic process, notes that in 1974 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of vinyl chloride as an aerosol in consumer products and the FDA banned its use. in cosmetics.

“Burning vinyl chloride can create and release dioxins,” some of the most toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and disrupt the hormonal, reproductive, reproductive and immune systems, the petition says. “Vinyl chloride is also often produced in low-income and communities of color – a clear violation of environmental justice. We don’t want another poisoned train disaster in Eastern Palestine. You can act and we count on you to protect public health and the environment.”

EPA has ‘broad credibility’

The petition garnered 10,000 signatures in its first week, with more people adding their names every day, Enk said.

The authority of the EPA to review the health and safety of chemicals such as vinyl chloride and decide whether to restrict or ban their use is subject to the amended Toxic Substances Control Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016 after widespread recognition that the original law of 1976 was a failure. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported that of the thousands of chemicals listed for commercial use in the United States, the EPA has used its authority to restrict or ban only five since the TSCA was first enacted.

The Environmental Protection Agency, first under President Trump and now under President Biden, has been working on chemicals that require testing under the revised TCSA. The EPA started with a list of ten chemicals to be tested for safety and potential restrictions, and the agency has yet to make final decisions on them.

“The existing chemicals program gives the EPA quite broad powers to protect the public, up to and including a total ban on the chemical,” said Tosh Sagar, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental organization that closely monitors TSCA.

“There is still no decision on whether this administration will force TSCA to work for those who have been exposed to toxic chemicals,” he said. “Congress has given the Environmental Protection Agency the authority and responsibility to protect people from toxic chemicals, especially those groups that may be most at risk, such as young children or people living in fenced-off communities.”

Sagar declined to specifically comment on the vinyl chloride petition because he had not yet seen it.

An EPA spokesman said vinyl chloride was included in the 2014 workplan for possible revision, but the agency has yet to take action. There were 90 chemicals in this work plan. The EPA’s written statement did not explain why the agency had not begun subjecting the chemical to the verification process.

Enck said the petition is not a formal request as allowed by TSCA. She said she hopes the EPA sees a wave of concern about the chemical after the crash and decides to take on the task of testing vinyl chloride on its own. Beyond Plastics may file a formal petition in the future.

The effort is likely to face an uphill battle. Formal reviews take years, and the agency previously rejected a 2014 petition under TSCA from the Center for Biological Diversity to address “the risks associated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), vinyl chloride and phthalates used as plasticizers.”

In January, the EPA made a tentative decision denying another request from the Center for Biological Diversity to treat PVC waste as hazardous under a separate federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which environmentalists hoped would reduce vinyl chloride and PVC. use.

Industries have been working for decades to downplay their risks, Enk said. “My only hope is that the EPA bases its decision on scientific evidence,” she added. “This is the real test of the new TSCA.”

Content Source

Dallas Press News – Latest News:
Dallas Local News || Fort Worth Local News | Texas State News || Crime and Safety News || National news || Business News || Health News

Related Articles

Back to top button