EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — For 30 years, this small town along the Ohio River has been home to the incinerator for Heritage Thermal Services, a controversial hazardous waste facility that has been cited for multiple violations and has faced numerous lawsuits. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a report that the Heritage site had repeatedly exposed the community to chemicals that can cause cancer and miscarriage.

The facility has denied any wrongdoing and continues to operate, now receiving toxic waste from last month’s Norfolk Southern train derailment in eastern Palestine, 20 miles away.

“I think at some point, the powers that be are like, ‘You know, they’ve been getting it forever. We’ll just put that out there instead of contaminating a new community,’” said Amanda Kiger, 49, adding that she has had cancer twice and knows many others in the area who have also been diagnosed. «They just pile it on us.»

The February 3 train disaster has raised health concerns not only in eastern Palestine, but also in places that have begun accepting shipments of contaminated soil and water from the derailment site. As of Wednesday, approximately 1.8 million gallons of hazardous liquid sewage and 700 tons of solid waste had been transported out of eastern Palestine, according to the Ohio EPA. The materials have traveled as far as Michigan and Texas for disposal.

In a statement, Heritage Thermal Services (formerly known as Waste Technologies Industries) said it was «providing on-site support in accordance with the cleanup plan approved by government agencies with jurisdiction over the event response.»

“HTS stands ready to do its part to help protect human health and the environment of its neighbors in eastern Palestine,” the statement added.

The Heritage Thermal Services incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, one of the few sites in the entire country where toxic waste from the train derailment in eastern Palestine was shipped.nbc news

After the train derailed in eastern Palestine, some of the chemicals it was carrying leaked into the surrounding air, soil, and water. Norfolk Southern officials released and burned a particular cancer-causing chemical, vinyl chloride, to prevent an explosion.

Cleanup efforts continue and area residents have been told by state and federal officials that their air and drinking water are surealthough some have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other problems that medical professionals suspect are related to chemical exposure.

Although it is not yet known whether the processes of transporting or disposing of the contaminated material pose any risk to those nearby, its arrival caught some officials in distant states off guard.

“It is a very real problem; They told us yesterday that the materials were coming, only to find out today that they have been here for a week,” Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo said last week, according to The Associated Press. the county is more than 1,300 miles from Eastern Palestine.

In Michigan, there were similar concerns.

“The fact that it’s here, and we haven’t been informed of the volume, we haven’t been informed of how it actually got here. Did she come by truck? Did you come by train? Were those transport vehicles well equipped to be able to deal with this? Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said at a press conference, according to The Hill.

Over the weekend, the EPA ordered hazardous waste shipments to temporarily stop. The move came several days after the agency took over the cleanup efforts, allowing it to require Norfolk Southern to clean up the area to its specifications, rather than allowing the company to do so voluntarily.

For communities like East Liverpool, the involvement of the federal agency provides little comfort.

“We, for years and years, have been waiting for remedies that have not arrived,” said resident Ricardo González, who added that he has always wanted to grow fruits and vegetables in his garden for his grandchildren, but is too afraid that the toxins in the soil could present a hazard. «We are overlooked.»

East Liverpool Mayor Gregory Bricker said he understood residents’ concerns, but said he had received assurances from the federal and Ohio EPAs.

“They assure me that the site can handle it,” he told NBC News.

New calls for rail safety

On Wednesday, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Amit Bose, spoke from East Palestine and announced a national initiative to improve rail safety. That effort will focus on track inspections along rail routes where large amounts of hazardous materials are transported.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators released the Rail Safety Act of 2023, which it would toughen requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials and increase the frequency of railcar inspections.

A Pennsylvania family inspects the wreckage of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 19, 2023.
A family inspects the wreckage of the Norfolk Southern train derailment on February 19.Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg praised the bill, saying on MSNBC’s «Morning Joe» it was time to «stand up to the rail industry lobby and do something.»

He added that the health of residents near the train derailment remains a priority.

“The state is even working on mental health because whether or not someone is showing symptoms that are directly physically traceable to this, we know that a lot of people, just because of that upheaval and that trauma, are facing things where they need and deserve mental attention. health support,” Buttigieg said.

Residents of cities that have accepted hazardous materials from the derailment say they are also hoping for support.

“I would ask the community, state regulators, our senators or representatives: No, I repeat, don’t forget about this area,” González said, her voice cracking. «I have anxiety. It is depressing.»

Gabe Gutierrez and Halle Lukasiewicz reported from East Liverpool, Ohio. Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.