The Indiana landfill selected to house hazardous waste from the train derailment in Ohio has a history of violations, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site.
It has had 12 quarters of noncompliance dating back to the spring of 2020, the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online database shows. It is unclear what the specific violations are.
The landfill sits outside of Roachdale, a small town about 40 miles west of Indianapolis. Operated by Heritage Environmental Services, it is certified to handle hazardous waste. On its website, Heritage said in a release that it has roughly 14 million cubic yards of permitted landfill capacity and added that the landfill is geologically isolated.
Neither the EPA nor Heritage Environmental Services have responded to IndyStar questions regarding the facility’s compliance issues.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Tuesday that he continues to object to the EPA’s decision to bring contaminated soil and liquids from the wreck to the state. Fellow Republican and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun also said Tuesday that he’s opposed to the waste being sent to Indiana.
Holcomb said there has been a “lack of communication” with him and other Indiana officials about the decision, which the EPA announced Monday.
After concerns were raised on where waste from the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was going, the EPA paused the shipments to review the disposal plans of Norfolk Southern, the railroad company behind the derailment. The shipments resumed Monday, and the agency announced some of it would be heading to Indiana.
Roachdale has a population of approximately 1,000 and spans an area of less than one square mile, according to the town website. The community was named after Judge Roach, a railroad official, and is home to local businesses, a library, churches and an elementary school.
Compliance concerns for Indiana landfill
EPA officials had previously said they approved shipments to two agency-certified sites in Ohio. On Monday, EPA Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore said an additional site in Ohio and one in Indiana had also been selected.
Heritage Environmental Services has violated environmental regulations in the past. In 2012, the company had “multiple hazardous waste violations” at an Indianapolis facility, according to a 2017 EPA statement. The next year, a company subsidiary allegedly violated the Clean Air Act at a hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, as described in a 2018 U.S. Justice Department release.
That same Ohio incinerator also has been selected to dispose of some of the contaminated waste.
In a release, Heritage Environmental Services said it “is providing support in accordance with the cleanup plan approved by government agencies with jurisdiction over the response to the (East Palestine) event. Materials eligible for management at the HES facility outside of Roachdale will be properly disposed of in accordance with the stringent requirements imposed under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.”
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is a law that governs the management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.
Lingering questions about waste disposal
It is unclear at this time what type of waste — toxic soil or liquids — will be placed in the Roachdale landfill or in what amounts.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said it is communicating with the EPA and local authorities in Putnam County to determine exactly what material is being brought to Indiana, when, and in what quantities.
EPA Region 5 administrator Shore said Monday when announcing the additional facilities that she had spoken with officials from both Ohio and Indiana regarding the hazardous waste shipments to their towns.
In his statement, however, Holcomb said that he learned “third-hand that materials may be transported to our state” — similar to concerns raised by local officials in Michigan and Texas. He said that he directed the state’s environmental director to reach out to the agency and he has requested to speak with an EPA official.
East Palestine train derailment:A timeline of what happened when
“I want to know exactly what precautions will be taken in the transport and disposition of the materials,” Holcomb said in a tweet.
He said he believes the hazardous waste materials should go to the nearest disposal facilities and not be moved “from the far eastern side of Ohio to the far western side of Indiana.”
In a statement sent to IndyStar, the state Department of Environmental Management echoed that thought. The agency said the decision to contract with Heritage Environmental Services for disposition of the hazardous waste was made by Norfolk Southern even though it’s almost 400 miles from the train derailment site.
IDEM said that it does not have the regulatory authority to prevent hazardous waste disposal facilities from accepting materials for which they are permitted to handle and dispose.
Experts worry trains becoming less safe
While the investigation into the Feb. 3 wreck continues, labor leaders and industry experts say trains have become less safe and there is a growing risk for accidents like the one in Ohio. The next one could happen right here in Indiana, a union official said, where nearly every day trains hauling hazardous materials roll over the network of more than 5,000 miles of track that weave across the state.
In fact, the train that derailed in Ohio passed through Indiana on its journey carrying the very same chemicals, and already had shown signs of trouble when it separated.
Several toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride and others, were released into the nearby water, soil and air. Nearly 45,000 fish and other animals were killed during the derailment and many residents have complained of headaches, difficulty breathing or skin and eye irritation. Clean-up has been ongoing in the weeks since.
The EPA said it is now getting close to having enough certified facilities to take all the waste that was produced at the site of the derailment in East Palestine.
Roachdale Town Council President Rick Miles said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the EPA’s decision because he has not been able to meet with other council members. Still, he said it is his understanding that Heritage Environmental Services is planning a meeting with the town this week that he believes will be well attended.