IN Brief

Holcomb directs additional testing on hazardous train derailment waste coming to Indiana

By: - March 2, 2023 5:52 pm

Aerial view of the train derailment wreckage in East Palestine. (Screenshot from NTSB B-roll recorded Feb. 5, 2023)

Indiana will contract with an outside laboratory to conduct “rigorous” testing of the hazardous materials that are already being shipped from the East Palestine train derailment to an Indiana facility, Gov. Eric Holcomb said Thursday.

The announcement followed an earlier statement from the governor in which he pushed back on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to transport hazardous materials from the Ohio train derailment to a landfill in Roachdale, Indiana.

Holcomb said he learned about the decision third-hand on Monday.

“All of us can agree that we should do everything within our control to provide assurance to our communities. This testing is the next necessary step,” the governor said in a written statement Thursday. “Since making this decision, we have informed the EPA and the site operator urging them to coordinate closely with this 3rd party laboratory to carry out this important testing.”

Indianapolis-based Pace Labs is scheduled to start sampling “for dangerous levels of dioxins” on Friday, Holcomb said. 

EPA officials said Thursday they will require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins in Ohio, but made no mention of such action in Indiana. If dioxins are found at a level “that poses any unacceptable risk to human health and the environment,” the EPA said it will direct “the immediate cleanup of the area as needed.” 

All of us can agree that we should do everything within our control to provide assurance to our communities. This testing is the next necessary step.

– Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Norfolk Southern is also mandated to conduct a background study to compare any dioxin levels around East Palestine to dioxin levels in other areas not impacted by the train derailment. The EPA is overseeing all cleanup efforts.

The Roachdale landfill is operated by Heritage Environmental Services and is federally certified to handle the management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. The “geologically isolated” site has about 14 million cubic yards of permitted landfill capacity, according to Heritage’s website.

Trucks hauling the toxic material began arriving at the landfill Tuesday, according to The Indianapolis Star. That’s despite pushback from Holcomb and various lawmakers, as well as state environmental officials and residents who live around Roachdale.

Representatives with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) previously told the Indiana Capital Chronicle that they did not have regulatory authority “to prevent hazardous waste disposal facilities from accepting materials for which they are permitted to handle and dispose.”

Holcomb reiterated Thursday that “it was extremely disappointing” to learn through a Monday press conference that the EPA had chosen Indiana as a location to deposit and remediate the waste from East Palestine. 

“This was made after our administration directly conveyed that the materials should go to the nearest facilities, not moved from the far eastern side of Ohio to the far western side of Indiana,” Holcomb said. “As you can expect, I expressed as much to the EPA administrator when we spoke on the phone Tuesday.”

The EPA has not responded to multiple Indiana Capital Chronicle requests for comment.

It remains unclear how many more trucks will deliver the contaminated soil to the Roachdale landfill, or for how long.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.