(NewsNation) — For the residents of East Palestine who are worried about their health amid a toxic chemical spill and mixed messages from government officials, an independent expert’s opinion is welcome.
Independent environmental scientist and chemical spill expert Stephen Petty talked to NewsNation as he was on the ground in East Palestine on Wednesday testing the air, water and soil following the Feb. 3 derailment of a train that was carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride.
“I don’t know what’s in the railroad’s mind,” Petty said. “What they are testing for, like the dioxins?”
Petty was conducting tests in homes for residents skeptical of the government giving them the all-clear.
“They’re measuring something that doesn’t tell you a lot about the individual chemicals,” Petty said. “It’s done because it’s easy and quick to do. It doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was in East Palestine on Tuesday and made it a point to drink tap water, demonstrating his confidence that it’s safe.
On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump delivered bottled drinking water to residents.
Petty has been an expert witness in dozens of the top environmental class action lawsuits in the U.S.
He says he came to Ohio because he believes independent testing is needed.
“The question is are there organic compounds here that are toxic,” he said. “We don’t know the answer yet.”
Passing trains could be heard about every minute where Petty was conducting his tests, a haunting reminder of the derailment and toxic chemical spill.
“The public can handle negative news, they just want the truth,” Petty said. “It’s not wrong to tell them we don’t know yet.”
Petty said he thinks residents are “being told too many positive things given the uncertainties.”
“I don’t think they’ve done enough,” he said.
Environmental lawyer Steven Donziger said it doesn’t take an expert on the ground to question the motives of Norfolk Southern, whose train derailed in the Ohio town, and the EPA.
Donziger has battled the likes of Chevron and had a warning for residents of East Palestine.
“Unfortunately, as I look at it, the cold, hard truth is there’s nobody to turn to,” Donziger said
Donziger said the government has historically never really dealt directly and told the full truth about health risks that are faced by local communities that get hit by major industrial accidents.
“The company detonated cancer-causing chemicals over a million pounds, creating a mushroom cloud of poison and this is all over this area in the air and landing on the ground,” he said.
Donziger said to make that recommendation, it was more of a political decision to manage the public relations fallout.
“And what’s really disconcerting is when the EPA and the Ohio EPA and the governor of Ohio just a few days after this disaster, recommended people go back as I look at the data, there was no scientific basis.”