‘They Did It To Open Up A Railroad’: Former Ohio Fire Chief Rips Controlled Burn Of Toxic Chemicals

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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  • East Palestine, Ohio, residents attended a community information meeting held by a local non-profit on Thursday to ask panelists questions after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed earlier this month.
  • Silverio Caggiano, a former Ohio fire chief, alleged that the controlled burn that released hazardous toxins into the air was only conducted to “open up a railroad.”
  • “But what they did was they took a potential and made it a for sure,” he told residents during the meeting.

A former fire chief alleged on Thursday that the controlled burn that released toxic chemicals into the air and water in an eastern Ohio town after a train derailed may not have been necessary, the Daily Caller News Foundation observed. 

A Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, and a controlled burn was performed days later to prevent an explosion, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Silverio Caggiano, administrative deputy chief at Mahoning County Hazardous Materials & WMD Response Team and former fire chief, told residents during a community meeting organized by local non-profit River Valley Organizing that he is not aware of any “incident where they have detonated all the cars in a trench and burned them off” in any case study he has done. (RELATED: Erin Brockovich Warns It Could Take ‘Decades’ For Ohio Town To Recover After Toxic Train Derailment)

“They did it to open up a railroad,” Caggiano told residents.

“The cooling off could have done it, the temperature gradients could have fell off, you don’t know,” he later said. “If you just let it boil off, you don’t know. But what they did was they took a potential and made it a for sure.”

He then called the controlled burn the “laboratory experiment from hell.”

Thursday’s meeting drew a large crowd as residents piled into overflow spaces to hear from panelists including PhD researchers, lawyers and community organizers, according to the event page. Residents brought up concerns about how the released chemicals could impact their health, how safe they are in their homes and work places and whether government officials made the correct decisions when responding to the derailment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested more than 550 homes as of Feb. 21 and detected “no exceedances for residential air quality standards,” according to its website.

Stephen Lester, science director at Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, said during the meeting that the EPA is not testing for dioxins, which are groups of chemical compounds, according to the EPA. He said that dioxins can cause symptoms including skin reactions and could remain present in the area for years. 

“The EPA has made one major mistake in their testing process thus far, it was ignoring dioxin, almost pretending like it didn’t exist,” he said during the meeting.

One resident said during the meeting that he could smell an odor when he tossed a rock into the creek.

Panelists encouraged residents to have their soil and water tested and to receive a baseline physical to document their health levels. Jami Wallace, community organizer, said at the start of the meeting that she demanded a toxicologist test her home and the report found it unsafe after she was told she was able to return after the derailment.

The Ohio Emergency Management Agency maintains that there is “no butyl acrylate or vinyl chloride” in the Ohio River, according to its website. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that more than 43,000 aquatic animals were killed after the derailment.

The municipal water shows “no water quality concerns,” according to the EPA, and several government officials including EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine drank the tap water on video.

“We’re at war. We’re at war with corporate greed, with the politicians that have this money lining their pocket. We’re here for one issue and that’s to make our town safe and to make sure that none of this happens again in our town or any other town,” Wallace said. “We deserve answers.” 

Norfolk Southern and the EPA did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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