A spokesperson with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 told The Ohio Star on Monday that the Fire Chief of the East Palestine Fire Department was the individual who ordered the controlled burn following the catastrophic train derailment on February 3rd.
“EPA did not order the controlled burn. The local fire chief was the incident commander who made the decision in consultation with Norfolk Southern, local law enforcement, and response officials from Ohio,” the EPA spokesperson told The Star.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) an “Incident Commander (IC) is responsible for the overall management of the incident and determines which Command or General Staff positions to staff in order to maintain a manageable span of control and ensure appropriate attention to the necessary incident management functions.”
East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick did not comment to The Ohio Star on Monday evening on if he was the incident commander, if he recommended the controlled burn, if he had the legal authority to order the controlled burn, any details of the analysis that led to the decision, or if any other options other than waiting for the carriages to explode were considered.
On February 3rd, 50 train carriages, 10 of which were carrying hazardous materials, derailed as a result of a technical problem with a rail car axle, according to federal authorities. There was vinyl chloride in five of the vehicles.
Exposure to vinyl chloride may cause an elevated risk of lung, brain, and a rare type of liver cancer. When burned it releases hydrogen chloride and the poisonous gas phosgene, which Germans used as a weapon in World War I.
Five train carriages were at risk of exploding due to the unstable vinyl chloride composition, which could have sent fatal shards into the air. Around 3:30 p.m. on February 6th, Norfolk Southern Railroad carried out a controlled discharge of the vinyl chloride to avert an explosion.
In a press conference last week, Governor Mike DeWine said before deciding to implement the controlled release, he and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro spoke with representatives from the railroad who recommended that the controlled release was the best option for the safety of the residents.
DeWine also noted that the Ohio National Guard did a modeling exercise of how the release would work in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense to give some additional information and understand the full ramifications before making the decision. The modeling was then produced into a map, and the decision was made to proceed with the recommended controlled release.
In an exclusive interview with The Ohio Star last Friday DeWine‘s spokesman Dan Tierney said that he was unaware that legal authority was required to execute the February 6 controlled burn and that DeWine agreed with the decision to execute a controlled burn – but was not the person who gave the order to execute the controlled burn.
The Star is also awaiting a reply from the governor’s office, local and regional EPA offices, state environmental agencies, and Norfolk Southern with additional information about the analysis undertaken that resulted in the decision to “vent and burn” the train carriages containing vinyl chloride – as well as the legal authority under which that decision was made.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “East Palestine Train Derailment Aftermath” by EPA / Michael Regan.