This weekend, the final truckload of impacted soil will be removed from the derailment zone. Moments before Norfolk Southern’s statement, the EPA — alongside village Mayor Trent Conaway — had an update of its own on the progress the work is having on the community nine months later.
A statement Thursday afternoon from Norfolk Southern said “soil excavation is set to be completed … marking a significant environmental remediation milestone.”
The land behind Leake Oil in East Palestine hasn’t been the same since Feb. 3. From the train derailment to the ongoing cleanup process, the public has never been allowed close to the site. But as Taggart Street has reopened and the work to remove contaminated soil from the site is almost finished, the EPA and Conaway felt it was time.
“Because from here, you can get a view of the entire site and see up close the last area where hazardous waste was excavated,” said EPA administrator Debra Shore.
It’s a milestone in the ongoing cleanup process. “Ground zero,” as it’s referred to, is where the train derailed and the vent and burn later took place.
“More than eight months ago, crumpled burned train cars were pulled from the tracks and staged here until they could be removed from the site,” Shore said.
“As soon as the excavation is complete, we collect a soil sample from the bottom of the composite soil sample, and we compare the results to what we call ‘groundwater standards,'” said Mark Durno, EPA response coordinator.
Durno explained how the agency decides when cleanup is deemed complete, and what variables determine that.
“There’s going to be a requirement to do monitoring long-term with this response, but getting a complete cleanup in the soil ensures that groundwater will likely be protected for the future,” Durno said.
According to Shore, more than 160,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 39 million gallons of liquid waste have been removed from the site.
“This doesn’t mean the cleanup is done or that EPA is going away — but it is another step, a huge step, in life returning to normal here in East Palestine,” Shore said.
Air, soil and water testing also continues. Just recently, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct additional cleanup and investigations at Sulphur and Leslie Run creeks.
Village mayor Conaway said it’s a “bittersweet” feeling to be standing on the site nine months after it all started.
“We just hope that this gets cleaned up, and we put it back to how the landowners want it,” Conaway said. “You’re going to build it back on track and get us back to the way we were over here.”