Communities reluctant to accept water
East Palestine weighs options to manage waste
EAST PALESTINE — As East Palestine council continues to consider a proposal to accept and discharge a percentage of the treated derailment water from the newly operational wastewater treatment facility constructed by Norfolk Southern, other communities in Ohio are expressing opposition to receiving it.
Officials in Coshocton voiced concerns about the Buckeye Brine facility receiving the water from the derailment. The injection well facility, where non-hazardous wastewater is injected into ground more than 1-mile below the lowermost drinking water aquifer, announced Aug. 31 the intention to take on some of the wastewater.
Coshocton County Commissioners and the City of Coshocton objected to the plan, and in news releases, stated they would be reaching out to state and federal officials for help and to consult with on the matter, the Coshocton Tribune reported. Commissioners also have sought consultation in an attempt to legally block Buckeye Brine from accepting and injecting the derailment waste.
Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness recently hosted a public meeting that drew more than 200 people to discuss ways to squash the plans to accept East Palestine wastewater and call for protests and demonstrations in front of the facility.
It wasn’t the first time other municipalities have opposed the acceptance of derailment waste by facilities. Three weeks after the rail disaster, residents in Harris County, Texas, also voiced concern about the Houston-area Texas Molecular accepting the water used during the firefighting efforts in East Palestine.
Concerns also were raised by officials in Romulus, Michigan, when it was announced the town’s Republic facility would accept derailment wastewater. In March, Baltimore council members unanimously adopted a resolution to urge the EPA to reverse the plan to bring the water to the city. In May, it was reported that Clean Harbors would treat the water, but it would be shipped back to the company’s Cleveland facility for disposal.
Although little to no concerns were expressed by residents living near the Cleveland facility, 60 miles away in Sandusky, it was a different story, as residents, including state Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, scrutinized Vickery Environmental’s treatment of liquid derailment waste.
States also have refused to accept contaminated soil from East Palestine. Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas attempted to turn away waste and only relented when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan intervened.
Locally, the decision to incinerate some of the waste at Heritage Thermal in East Liverpool drew sharp criticism.
The EPA last updated that 113,873 tons of solid waste has been shipped off site for disposal and 33.3 million gallons of liquid waste have been shipped and disposed of.
However, the wastewater treated at the Norfolk Southern facility, while still considered waste, also would be considered non-hazardous. Once treated, the water would be rendered to “drinking water standards,” according to the EPA.
To accomplish that, the facility uses a process to remove vinyl chloride and other derailment contaminants from rainwater that has come into contact with contamination. The system uses several steps — including sedimentation, filtration, oil-water separation, air stripping and activated carbon — to remove suspended solids and particles, oils, volatile organic compounds and other remaining site contaminants.
Treated wastewater samples are collected to verify the system is working correctly. The treated wastewater is then stored in large tanks and tested to verify the vinyl chloride is below the drinking water standard. Norfolk Southern then will identify off-site non-hazardous disposal facilities to accept the treated wastewater. Until the construction and approval of the wastewater facility, derailment wastewater was held in 2 million gallon tanks until it can be shipped off site to facilities approved by the EPA to accept and treat toxic water.
If the East Palestine municipal wastewater plant does accept some of the treated water, the village would be compensated for it. Under a proposal by Water Superintendent Scott Wolfe, some of the wastewater would be piped into the East Palestine wastewater plant via a series of pumps and a hard tap-in to the village’s sanitary lines by Norfolk Southern.
Wolfe said the water would be “very clean,” and while the village does not have the capability to take all the water, taking some of it would reduce the truck traffic on the village roads. He also said the process the village would utilize to accept only a certain amount of the discharge.
Council has yet to announce a decision on the proposal or schedule a public meeting to obtain public feedback on the issue, but addressed the idea online. In a statement, the village said it is following EPA guidance on the matter and the “already-treated water would be treated a second time before it is released.” The statement also listed reduced truck traffic as “an advantage” to accepting the proposal but listed no disadvantage.