Are East Palestine Residents Victims of EPA’s Environmental Racism?

Writing for the Guardian, Stephen Lester put it plainly: “So why is EPA unwilling to test for dioxins in the soil? My guess is because they know they will find it. And if they find it, they’ll have to address the many questions people are asking.” 

Under pressure, the EPA finally directed testing for dioxins approximately one month after residents were told by public health officials that they could safely remain in their homes. Why the callousness and lack of concern for the health and safety of the mostly white residents of the community around East Palestine, Ohio? The political philosophy of EPA Administrator Michael Regan raises legitimate concerns over whether this race-obsessed social justice advocate may have practiced the type of environmental racism he claims to be addressing.

But first, let’s dive into the emerging concerns over the dioxin contamination Lester predicted.

While we have heard much about the dangerous vinyl chloride carried by the Norfolk Southern cars that derailed in East Palestine early last month, and phosgene gas produced by burning it, as was deliberately done in the aftermath of the trainwreck, we have not as much about the dangers of dioxin. Lester, who serves as a toxicologist and the science director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, raised an alarm over the lack of testing. He writes: 

This makes no sense. Testing for dioxin, a highly toxic substance, should have been one of the first things to look for, especially in the air once the decision was made to burn the vinyl chloride. There is no question that dioxins were formed in the vinyl chloride fire. They would have formed on the particulate matter—the black soot—in the cloud that was so clearly visible at the time of the burn. Now, the question is how much is in the soil where people live in and around East Palestine. Without testing, no one will know and the people who live there will remain in the dark, uncertain about their fate. 

As reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, dioxin environmental contamination has a known association with unexpected cancers in young people including, ovarian cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and most prominently, thyroid cancer.

Residents around East Palestine complained that the plume of black smoke from the burning vinyl chloride dropped ash on residents as far as 15 miles away. The plume was so large, local weather radar detected it. 

But Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg would like you to remember that he is suffering, too. Apparently stung by criticism that he could not relate to the low income victims of the accident, Buttigieg complained that he unfairly received the brunt of the criticism of the federal response. While it’s hard to defend Buttigieg’s partisanship and incompetence, the man has a point. 

Buttigieg might bear some blame for the safety lapses if they could have been prevented by better government oversight, but that’s a separate question from the one about what to do in the aftermath of such an accident. The focus now should shift to the EPA and its stunning complacency in the face of the potential presence of cancer-causing dioxins infiltrating air, soil, and water.

We still don’t know everything about the identity of the officials who recommended venting and burning the vinyl chloride. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) took credit for the decision but did not indicate in his statement whether he first took input from the EPA. DeWine claimed the decision was necessary to avoid an explosion. However, Norfolk Southern’s list of impacted cars indicated that none of the five cars containing vinyl chloride were breached or leaking. 

EPA’s Regan earned his masters degree in public administration after earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and agriculture from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Students of environmental science at N.C. A&T study such topics as, “climate change,” “environmental justice,” and “environmental politics.” Indeed, Regan used the term “justice,” as in “environmental justice,” or “economic justice” a whopping 42 times during his confirmation hearing. 

In his previous job, he created North Carolina’s first “Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board.” Since arriving at the EPA, Regan has redirected millions in taxpayer funds to “environmental justice organizations.” In his April 2022 testimony, he proposed spending an additional $300 million to “expand support for community-based organizations, indigenous organizations, tribes, states, local governments, and territorial governments in pursuit of identifying and addressing environmental justice issues through multi-partner collaborations.” That, of course, is a euphemism for paying off allies of the Democratic Party using taxpayer funds that were supposed to be spent on the environment.

On February 21, more than a week before the EPA even ordered testing for dioxins, Regan participated in a post-trainwreck photo op during which he gingerly sipped tap water freshly poured from a resident’s kitchen sink. Like Buttigieg during his visit, Regan’s discomfort was palpable.

In Regan’s view, the EPA should refocus its attention on previously underserved communities with an eye towards making up for perceived racial inequities. “Neither an individual’s skin color nor the wealth of their ZIP code should determine whether they have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, or healthy environments in which their children can play,” Regan acknowledges. But that hasn’t stopped him from re-ordering the EPA’s priorities so that it does consider race by establishing a quota goal of “delivering at least 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to underserved and overburdened communities.” That’s bureaucrat-speak for minority communities.

The East Palestine trainwreck has caused many to wonder whether the United States might be experiencing a surge in industrial and transportation accidents. The East Palestine accident is among five recent Norfolk Southern train derailments in the state of Ohio alone. As USA Today reports, “In the last decade, hazardous materials have spilled or leaked from trains more than 5,000 times in the United States.” In the last year, 32 rail spills were classified as “serious.”

While the Biden Administration has tried to be as inclusive as possible in appointing key cabinet positions, there exists the possibility that he lost sight of the core responsibilities of these positions in the rush to satisfy political considerations. 

When public safety is at issue, Americans should get the best administrators available regardless of race or sexual orientation. As we have seen, the consequences can be deadly when politics supplants competence. 

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About Adam Mill

Adam Mill is a pen name. He is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law. He graduated from the University of Kansas and has been admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri. Mill has contributed to The Federalist, American Greatness, and The Daily Caller.

Photo: Michael Swensen/Getty Images

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