By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. states cannot block shipments of hazardous waste from a Feb. 3 Ohio train derailment to licensed disposal sites, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Friday.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s warning came after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said earlier this week he had blocked a shipment of hazardous waste from the derailment to a facility in his state.
The derailment of the Norfolk Southern operated train in East Palestine, Ohio, has shone a spotlight on railroad safety as residents worry about the health impacts of living near the toxic material.
Regan told reporters he sent letters to all states warning “any attempts to impede interstate shipments of hazardous waste threatens the integrity of the system.” He said the Oklahoma site has a permit to receive the waste.
The EPA said there are typically 97,000 shipments of hazardous waste in the U.S. per month and two-thirds may cross state lines.
Regan said he would hold Norfolk Southern accountable and demanded it enforce its contracts to dispose of contaminated materials from the site.
“EPA will take all actions to ensure the safe hazardous waste handing continues across this country,” he told reporters. “We expect Norfolk Southern to execute and implements its contracts and hold contractees accountable for receipt of this waste.”
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine praised the EPA statement for making clear states must accept shipments.
Both Regan and DeWine said there was nothing unusual about the material from the East Palestine derailment.
“It’s kind of crazy because what we’re sending from here is no worse than stuff they are taking every other day,” DeWine told reporters. “In fact, they are taking a lot worst stuff than we’re sending them.”
Regan said to date the railroad has excavated nearly half of contaminated soil from the tracks and transported 6.8 million gallons of liquid waste and 5,400 tons of solid waste. Regan estimated it would take another three months to complete the site cleanup.
“EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the mess it made — and no one should impede or prevent this cleanup as we return East Palestine to the beautiful community residents know it to be,” he said.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has said the railroad is fully committed to cleaning the site and will testify next week before the Senate Commerce Committee, his second appearance this month before senators.
Norfolk Southern said in a statement it shares “the EPA’s urgency to complete the remediation safely and thoroughly…. We will keep working until the job is done.”
On Tuesday, the state of Ohio sued Norfolk Southern over the derailment that released over a million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Marguerita Choy, Josie Kao and Lincoln Feast.)