A scientist slammed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not testing for dioxins, a cancer-causing chemical that is “no doubt” in the environment of East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the February 6 controlled detonation that was conducted in response to the train derailment.
Stephen Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, told WKBN there is no doubt in his mind that dioxins were released during the controlled burn of vinyl chloride in East Palestine last month.
The scientist said the EPA’s decision not to test for the highly toxic chemical compound is a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”
U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore said the agency will not test for dioxins at this time.
“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have baseline information in this area to do a proper test. But, we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it,” Shore said.
Dioxins are highly toxic pollutants that can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, as well as damage to the immune system, WKBN noted.
“I think they’re reluctant to test, because they know they will find it, and they will be put in a place where they have to address it,” Lester told the outlet, adding that exposure to dioxins can lead to severe types of cancer. He added:
The level of dioxin that gets into a body, a person, an animal, a cow, that could lead to health problems is extraordinarily low. It does not take very much. I’d be very concerned if I had a farm, especially if I was aware, as some people described in that meeting, that the black cloud from the burning had settled onto their property.
Lester explained that dioxins can take decades to fully break down and dissolve, adding that they can settle on surfaces, plants, in water, and in soil after they are released.
The EPA administrator reportedly responded to a letter from Senators J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), appearing to try to downplay dioxins by suggesting they are also produced by “backyard grilling.”
“Our toxicologists are taking a look. Unfortunately, we don’t have any baseline information about the levels of dioxins which are produced also by wildfires, by backyard grilling, by a host of other things,” Shore said.
But Lester said he has “never heard anybody, any researcher, talk about cookouts” when discussing dioxins.
“That’s an infinitesimal concentration, if at all, because dioxins form not just ’cause there’s burning, you need a chlorine source,” he said.
Lester added that the EPA should still be able to test for dioxins to determine if the level in the environment is putting residents at risk — even if there is no “baseline information” about dioxin levels allegedly produced by other entities.