Saturday, March 11, 2023

Dexter and Norfolk Southern

There is an article in the March 8 New York Times by Judith Enck entitled "Why Has the E.P.A. Allowed the Horrific Situation in Ohio to Continue?".  Ms. Enck is a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.  

When a Norfolk Southern train carrying nearly 116,000 gallons of vinyl chloride derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, last month, local officials made a pivotal decision: to drain the highly toxic chemical into a ditch and set it on fire in a “controlled burn” to avoid a catastrophic explosion.

Officials didn’t mention that the plume could rain dioxins and other enduring poisons down on the community and others downwind. And two days after the burn, residents in the one-by-two-mile evacuation zone were allowed back into their homes — before any testing for dioxins and other contaminants on the surfaces inside had been done.

But even now, a month after the derailment, the people of East Palestine don’t have solid information about the risks they and their families face — whether they have already been exposed, what they should be doing to avoid future exposure and whether they just need to move.

This situation is identical to the one faced by residents of tiny St. Croix Cove, Annapolis County, Nova Scotia except Cove dwellers have waited 19 years for information of any kind.  They filed a Freedom of Information request which reveals similar motives and actions.

Just by changing a few words in the Times article it's the same old story.  Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC) should have ordered comprehensive testing of domestic wells. They should have told pregnant women and families with young children about chemicals escaping from a hazardous privately owned landfill, located directly uphill in their watershed.

Why would NSECC allow this horrific situation to continue?  Instead, it timidly stood back, leaving local authorities, corporate interests and rumors to fill the void.

In lieu of a comprehensive plan, NSECC appears to be playing a game of studied silence. This is no way to safeguard our communities.

The Environmental Protection Agency waited almost a month before it asked Norfolk Southern to begin dioxin testing in East Palestine. NSECC has done everything in its power, including redefining the very nature of hazardous waste, to accommodate the for-profit interests of Municipal Enterprises, Nova Scotia's $2.5 billion infrastructure giant.

In a situation like this, NSECC should immediately conduct authoritative tests and come up with a plan to address any dangers, and communicate all of it loudly and clearly to the affected community.

There have been other troublesome missteps and delays. Fires, odours, questionable science, clearcutting, poor supervision, secrecy, and no local oversight.  An affront to Canadian values.  This is a terrible approach. Not only are the interests of a company accused of polluting quite obviously distinct from those of the public but many of these failures most likely happened because NSECC deferred too much to the private and wealthy owners.

But by acting as a reluctant regulator, NSECC. has left the residents of St. Croix Cove and the surrounding areas desperate for answers. At a recent county council meeting, residents demanded more information. These are people who are concerned for their health, the safety of their own homes and the well-being of their children. They deserve better.

You can see this excessive deference in nonemergency situations, too, in 100% approval of Environmental Assessments and half-baked schemes for mining and gas storage.  NSECC has stood by as serial polluters pumped contaminants into the air and the water in rural communities.

NSECC needs to take two actions now.

First, it needs to conduct comprehensive environmental testing  in and around St. Croix Cove.

Second, NSECC needs to establish and fund medical monitoring for everyone affected. Even those who appear healthy now should be offered baseline testing.

NSECC should work aggressively to protect your health and the health of your families during environmental emergencies. The people of St. Croix Cove and their neighbors have been through a lot. NSECC will need to work hard to regain their trust.

Annapolis Waterkeepers

No comments: