Toxic wastewater from the site of the February derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, is set to be transported to Baltimore, Maryland, where it will be treated and discharged, according to officials.
In a March 25 statement, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat, said Clean Harbors Environmental Services has contracted with Norfolk Southern Railway to “accept, treat, and discharge the wastewater collected from rainwater, collected water, and stream water above and below the cleanup site” of the derailment.
The toxic wastewater would be treated at the city-run Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk, according to the company.
“The facility is one of a number of facilities in locations around the country selected to process this material,” Scott said. “Both the City and the County teams have been in touch with the Governor’s office as well as with the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency].”
Scott noted that officials have assured his office that the facility is able to efficiently process the wastewater, but the mayor said that local teams have been asked to “do their due diligence to be certain that there is no risk to the health and safety [of] our residents and our environment.”
Concerns Over Hazardous Chemicals
“Additionally, we are seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office regarding the City’s requirement to discharge the waste from the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailment,” Scott said.
According to a March 22 letter (pdf) to the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, Clean Harbors determined that the site in Baltimore is an “optimal wastewater treatment site” for the wastewater collected from the derailment site.
Clean Harbors said it will begin to receive the wastewater as soon as it has been granted approval and that it expects to handle an initial load of 675,000 gallons that will arrive by train.
The Feb. 3 derailment of the Norfolk Southern-operated freight train led to a spill of toxic chemicals. A controlled release of the chemicals onboard, which included vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and butyl acrylate, was conducted three days later. The controlled release also sent phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air.
Since then, residents have raised concerns over the long-term impacts on their health.
“The proposed treatment scheme will be carbon adsorption using 4×12 mesh reagglomerated carbon followed by inorganic metals removal as needed,” Clean Harbors stated in its letter. “The primary constituent of concern is vinyl chloride.”
States Move to Block Toxic Waste Shipments
Multiple states, including Oklahoma, have attempted to block the transportation of toxic waste from the Ohio derailment to storage sites across the nation, but in a letter to state officials earlier this month, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said there was no reason for a block, adding that states have limited power to impose one.
“This is impermissible and this is unacceptable,” Regan said of the proposed bans, The Associated Press reported.
Some of the contaminated waste has already been sent to Indiana and will be transported to Michigan and Texas in the near future.
According to a March 23 update from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, approximately 7.9 million gallons of liquid wastewater have been removed from East Palestine so far.
Scott’s announcement comes after the Back River plant in Dundalk exploded last week, ripping holes through three walls and sparking a fire. It’s unclear exactly what caused the explosion, but city officials said the incident hasn’t impacted the facility’s waste disposal capabilities.
Speaking at a press conference on March 24, Scott said the plant was in “good standing.” However, he again expressed concerns regarding the waste from the East Palestine derailment being sent to the facility.
“[We] have grave concerns about the waste from this derailment coming into our facilities and being discharged into our system,” he said.
The mayor added that additional testing will need to be performed before any of the treated wastewater is discharged into the public system.