EPA Should Have Warned Against Gardening Near Ohio Derailment Due to Toxic Garlic, Watchdog Says

A watchdog group has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct further soil studies near the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio and to issue warnings about gardening safety after independent testing revealed high levels of chemicals in locally grown garlic.

The nonprofit Government Accountability Project filed a petition with the federal agency, criticizing the EPA for not conducting its own tests on garden crops in East Palestine or sampling for dioxins in homegrown produce. Lesley Pacey, the group’s senior environmental officer, expressed concern to The Associated Press ahead of the petition filing, stating, “It is unacceptable that the EPA has not taken these steps, yet continues to reassure residents it’s safe to garden and consume homegrown produce.”

The EPA has maintained that gardening is safe in the area based on tests conducted by state agriculture officials at 31 locations around town and on surrounding farms, nearly three months after the February 2023 derailment. However, the Government Accountability Project has questioned the validity of these findings, citing independent tests conducted by Scott Smith, a businessman and inventor involved in community responses to chemical disasters since 2006.

Smith’s tests have shown elevated levels of dioxins in crops like garlic, prompting concerns among residents like Marilyn Figley, who refrained from gardening last year after the derailment due to contamination fears. Despite precautions like replacing topsoil, some residents remain apprehensive about potential health risks associated with dioxins, chemicals released during the burning of vinyl chloride after the derailment.

Tamara Lynn Freeze, another resident, has reported health issues possibly linked to the derailment and subsequent contamination, highlighting ongoing community anxiety over local produce safety. Smith, who continues to conduct testing in East Palestine, emphasizes the need for further EPA investigation based on his findings, despite disagreements with EPA officials over testing methodologies and data interpretation.

The EPA, while dismissing Smith’s independent tests in the past, has defended its own testing protocols and conclusions regarding the safety of gardening and produce consumption in East Palestine. However, Smith and advocates insist that comprehensive testing and transparency are crucial to address community concerns and ensure public health protection in the aftermath of environmental disasters.

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