East Palestine

What must happen in and around East Palestine: Split sampling & analysis for dioxins and furans

by | Feb 26, 2023

The Precautionary Principle Must Be Applied

THE DIOXIN ISSUE associated with the East Palestine train derailment of Feb. 3, 2023 is not going away. It is officially in play. Everyone who needs to knows about it.

The local region and the reading/viewing public is informed, as long as they look somewhere besides major corporate media — which is doing a great job playing it down.

However, the word dioxin comes up at every town hall meeting. U.S. Sens. Brown and Vance from Ohio have written to the EPA calling for dioxin testing, which made the AP wire on Friday. This, in turn, pushed it into the Cincinnati Enquirer. Every chemical expert anywhere knows that dioxins are created when chlorinated compounds burn.

The precautionary principle must be applied in this case: get the people out before the dioxin results come back. In order of who is evacuated: pregnant and nursing women; children; women who plan to have babies; and everyone else. Dioxin is toxic to everyone. There is no safe level of exposure to anyone. It is extremely toxic to dogs and cats, and any creature with a low body weight. Get them all out. Note that guinea pigs are the the animal most sensitive to dioxin exposure. Where the guinea pigs die, there is dioxin.

Go to Dioxin Resources for Citizens and Journalists

East Palestine

Gov. Mike DeWine toasts with tap water in the home of an East Palestine resident as EPA head Michael Regan watches. Pool photo / ABC News.

EPA is Resisting for a Good Reason

The reason that EPA is resisting testing for dioxin is that once the first positive test result comes back, the next question is about evacuation. Other communities have been permanently evacuated for dioxin contamination, including Times Beach, MO, and Love Canal in western New York.

Once there is a single positive result, the discussion also goes to how far the dioxin has spread. More people will want testing. This is likely to have devastating effects, as one cannot sell a home or business in a dioxin-contaminated area.

From the government’s point of view, admitting to the presence of dioxin must be avoided at all costs. The way to avoid that is to not test.

Therefore, Gov. Mike DeWine and EPA chief Michael Regan do things like visit residents in their homes, and toast drinking tap water. This is a typical PR maneuver to “show that it’s safe” without actually producing data.

Having covered many of these incidents, I want to offer two things in this article: what I think must happen for there to be an honest assessment of the dioxin levels, and how the game with state and federal authorities may play out.

Testing Must Begin at the Point of Origin

The whole region of Ohio and Pennsylvania where the plume spread must eventually be investigated, along with ongoing monitoring of food products from the 125,000 farms in the area. There must be full-spectrum chemical testing, as well as analyzing for dioxins and related dibenzofurans.

But the point source and its surroundings are the place to start, to establish the levels where the chlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans originated.

East Palestine

Ground Zero at the State University of New York at New Paltz, January 1992, where dioxins were created in a PCB Explosion in Bliss Hall, an all-girls’ dormitory for 190 students. Photo by Eric Coppolino / Student Leader News Service.

Soot Samples from the Burn Pit and Wipe Samples from Rooftops

Testing the air or water for dioxins, and even the soil, is not so relevant right now. Eventually it will be.

What are needed NOW are soot samples taken from the burn pit, below where it was back-filled; and wipe samples of the undisturbed soot that settled on rooftops within a radius around the scene of the fire, perhaps a mile or so.

This will give a picture of levels at ground zero, and, plotted on a grid, give some sense of how the plume moved through the immediate vicinity of the incident.

It’s important to remember that dioxin-contaminated soot will bind to soil and dust, and eventually get tracked around, and blow and flow with sediments in water — but testing must start where we are mostly like to find the chemicals now.

Analyzing for Dioxins and Furans

The samples must be analyzed for a diversity both chlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans. Furans are dioxins with only one oxygen molecule rather than two. Furans are just as toxic as dioxins, but will not show up if only dioxin is analyzed for. The total dioxin level includes all furans. Not testing for furans will drive down the final result, what is called the TEQ or toxic equivalency.

Split Sampling is Essential

Split sampling is essential to honest testing. That means taking samples from the same location and sending them to two different labs working under different contracts and comparing the results. The results should be similar, and if they are not, something is amiss.

A third and possibly a fourth set of samples from each should be kept for future analysis, if a trusted party can be designated to keep them. That will be a challenge.

Testing for the Wrong Chemical in the Wrong Places

The essence of political decontamination is testing for the wrong chemicals in the wrong places, then declaring the area safe. This is what’s going on when officials gleefully announce that there is no vinyl chloride in the air, or claim that the tap water is clean and safe. These are all acts of fraud and public deception.

East Palestine

PCB- and dioxin-contaminated Parker Theater at SUNY New Paltz, January 1992. Photo by Eric Coppolino, Student Leader News Service.

Officials Will Deny, Deflect, Delay, and Obfuscate

If repeated history is any teacher, government officials will deny, delay, deflect and obfuscate the need for dioxin testing until five seconds before the results are released. They can claim to lose samples, lose test results, and confuse test results with those taken from another area. They can produce fraudulent studies, lie in court, and create fake reports.

Government officials and their shill consultants will try to intimidate citizen activists, call them crazy and demand their “credentials.” They will attempt to drown people in jargon and reassurances. There is no limit to the deception that is possible.

On two occasions in American history, the homes of leading dioxin document collectors were burned down in separate incidents, along with their papers: Pat Costner and Carol van Strum, who were working locally and also assisting Greenpeace. That didn’t stop either of them.

Citizen Action Gets Results

Residents, farmers and business owners need their own trusted environmental consultants. Until now, they can do a lot advocating for themselves. Take any opportunity to make your case to a reporter, podcast or in front of any video camera. Respond to media requests, explain your situation, and demand dioxin and furan testing.

In every dioxin situation, this has been the deciding factor of whether proper action is taken.

On dioxin issues, citizen action and honest press coverage get results. The pressure must be maintained all the time. Local reporters and editors, and regional newspapers, must be pressured into asking the right questions and telling the truth.

Please share this dioxin resource for citizens and reporters far and wide.

People impacted by this disaster must stand up for themselves and demand their rights under the very worst conditions: with their homes potentially destroyed, with their families, pets and livestock under constant threat, and with their life patterns and income disrupted in these extremely fragile times.

We must stop the crimes against the people now, demand proper dioxin and dibenzofuran split sampling and analysis — and make sure this does not happen again.

Eric F. Coppolino is a New York-based investigative reporter and radio host on the Pacific Network. He has covered dioxins and related chemicals since 1983. He is Executive Director of Chion Return, the nonprofit investigative team. His work has been published in Sierra, The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Las Vegas Sun, The Ecologist, and Woodstock Times. His ancient website Dioxin Dorms covers the legacy of the SUNY New Paltz incident in December 1991 and the global dioxin problem. A succinct, newly-updated history of dioxin is here.

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