September 21, 2023  

Government Accountability Project launches investigation into East Palestine disaster response, files FOIA lawsuit against EPA, provides citizen whistleblower protection for independent scientist Scott Smith 

WASHINGTON Government Accountability Project is launching its own investigation into the EPA’s response to the East Palestine train derailment and providing citizen whistleblower protection to Scott Smith, the independent scientist who uncovered significantly elevated levels of dioxins and related compounds, or furans, in East Palestine, Ohio. 

Government Accountability Project found Smith’s allegations are credible, serious, and deserving of scrutiny, despite thus far being denied by the EPA. In the seven months since the disaster, the independent testing expert and CEO of U.S. BioSolutions, LLC, reports that he has found levels of dioxins and related furans in East Palestine’s air, water, soil, and in the homes of its residents that are notably higher than baseline samples common to unaffected communities.   

“The EPA has been disingenuous about the facts of contamination while residents in East Palestine have become sicker and sicker. The failure of government is reminiscent of how we treated our military servicemen and women who were exposed to the burn pits of the Gulf War,” Smith said. “When multiple chemicals are burned simultaneously, thousands of different chemicals are formed. These dioxins and furans may create an additive and/or  synergistic toxicity. The people of East Palestine, especially those with children who are coughing up blood, have every right to question the motives behind the open burning decision and more. Some people are getting sicker and sicker, so something is going on.” 

As part of its investigation, Government Accountability Project filed a FOIA lawsuit today against the EPA through Chicago firm Loevy & Loevy for denying expedited processing and a fee waiver to Government Accountability Project for its FOIA, which requested data and communications on dioxins and other chemicals spilled and burned during the derailment. In the organization’s 46 years, the organization has never been turned down for a fee waiver. 

“One essential purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to let the people know what the federal government is doing on their behalf in a timely manner,” said Louis Clark, Government Accountability Project’s Executive Director and CEO. “This community is enduring a significant crisis now. It simply does not have the luxury of waiting for years for documentation about what is going on related to the derailment catastrophe within the Environmental Protection Agency.” 

In its FOIA, Government Accountability Project maintained that a “lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life and physical safety of thousands of residents in East Palestine and neighboring communities that may be exposed to dangerous dioxins in the air, water, soil and in the dust in their homes following the burning of vinyl chloride and other chemicals.  

“There is an urgency to inform the public about testing and sampling results and EPA action or inaction on dioxin testing, especially in light of the fact that the EPA’s stance on dioxin contamination is in opposition to independent environmental scientists who have found very high levels of dioxins in the community,” according to Government Accountability Project’s FOIA. 

In denying expedited processing, the EPA stated: “Your application does not provide enough details about the urgency to inform the public about agency records concerning dioxins. Many records about EPA involvement has (sic) been released on EPA’s website. Additionally, your justification does not speak to any expectation that lack of expedited treatment would pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.” 

Government Accountability Project contends the people of East Palestine deserve the truth about the potential health and environmental impacts of the disaster and the EPA’s internal processes. Government Accountability Project’s FOIA also requests the full list of chemicals in the train cars that were burned—information that was released but later removed from the EPA’s website. 

“Incredibly, the industry-paid labs can’t find chemicals, and the government says the public is safe,” said Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project’s legal director. “It is overdue to have an independent investigation to get a people’s record of the truth. This investigation is a chance to learn the true extent of dangerous releases and make a record of those who live in East Palestine who have been harmed.”   

Hundreds of thousands of pounds of vinyl chloride and other toxic and flammable materials spilled February 3 when the Norfolk Southern train derailed. Then, on February 6, the chemicals burned for three days. Experts including former and current EPA officials have raised concerns that EPA did not consult with dioxin experts or test for dioxins for more than a month after the derailment.  

Although EPA has insisted there were no public health threats from the accident and spill, informal reports indicate the agency may be covering up a public health tragedy.  

“We are seeing blood in the urine, bloody noses, serious problems with menstrual cycles, rashes, and headaches in East Palestine as well as a seizure cluster and stroke like symptoms,” said Smith, who has traveled to East Palestine 24 times since the derailment. “Currently, there is a seizure cluster in nearby Pennsylvania.”  

Government Accountability Project’s investigation will make a record that was not purchased by industry, providing a voice for victims, Devine said. 

“If you are sick, if your children are sick, we want to hear from you,” Government Accountability Project’s Environmental Investigator Lesley Pacey said. “If you have information that can aid our investigation, we want to talk with you. Government Accountability Project is the nation’s largest and most prestigious whistleblower organization and getting at the truth while protecting truth tellers is what we do.”  

Pacey will be attending a live town hall in East Palestine, hosted by News Nation, on September 26 at 8:00 p.m. ET to meet members of the community and learn more about how this tragedy has impacted their lives. The town hall is being held to give residents and others impacted by the disaster a voice.   

Experts agree the background level for dioxins in residential land use in soil averages 6 parts per trillion (ppt) on an index measure called Toxic Equivalency Factor (TEQ). However, Smith is finding measures of dioxins and furans in the soil in East Palestine in the range of 27–30 ppt—with some results considerably higher.  

“This is highly concerning when you compare it to Times Beach, Missouri, a town that had to be evacuated in 1983 due to dioxin and other chemical contamination,” Smith said. “Dioxins do not go away. They accumulate and migrate. It’s called the ‘body burden.’ It’s exposure over time. And when you clearly see the increased burden of dioxins in the soil and/or sediment and/or surfaces, it is a real-world concern.” 

Smith said that due to his dioxins findings, which he has shared regularly in the media, he has seen attempts by the EPA, Norfolk Southern, and its contractors to discredit him.  

“Smear campaigns against me are nothing new. I’ve been to over 60 disasters. Sadly, it’s part of the coverup playbook when a big company like Norfolk Southern and their battalion of lobbyists and public relations people get the EPA to follow their script, using what appears to be undue influence,” Smith said. “The EPA is demanding to know why I test where I test and what my work plan and methodologies are. It’s simple: My work plan is to test the property of any resident that the EPA is refusing to test. I test at the request of the residents. My sampling methodologies mirror the procedures and protocols that EPA personnel are executing in East Palestine.”  

“The questions are: ‘What is the EPA hiding? Why did they not remediate the worst threat first? Why are they refusing to test residents’ homes near the derailment? And why are they withholding EPA FOIA information?’” Smith asked. 

About Scott Smith  

Seventeen years ago, Scott Smith’s life was turned upside down when his small business was wiped out in oil contaminated flood waters in St. Johnsville, N.Y. This event changed the trajectory of his life, and he shifted his focus to solving water contamination problems.  

Additionally, Smith is an inventor named on 11 issued patents and 14 patent-pending applications relating to Open-Cell foam technology for testing/remediation of water, surfaces, and air contaminated with dangerous pathogens (e.g., MRSA, COVID-19, Legionella, C. diff), harmful algal blooms and related toxins, oil, and chemicals.   

Now an independent testing expert and CEO of U.S. BioSolutions, Smith frequently works on the ground in the U.S. and abroad in contamination events supporting communities by investigating and helping affected communities diagnose and solve water contamination events.   

His unique perspective as a CEO and community liaison brings his personal and professional experience to each contamination site. He is a graduate of Baylor University and Harvard Business School. 

“I’ve been involved on the ground testing in over 60 disasters since 2006, beginning with my own disaster,” said Smith, referring to torrential rains in 2006 that flooded his business, Cellect, LLC, with 15 feet of water causing his plastic foam factory in St. Johnsville, N.Y., to shut down for four months. His plant sustained $10 million in damage and lost revenue. The event brought him recognition as an exemplary employer.  

After the disaster, he immediately organized a meeting with the New York State Department of Labor, quickly securing unemployment assistance for his 100 employees. After observing the care, concern and innovation that Smith displayed in getting his employees back to work in the aftermath of the flood and his devotion to the rebuilding and expanding the business, Sen. Chuck Schumer nominated Smith for – and he was later awarded – the Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery in 2008 and described Smith as “a fount of knowledge for a U.S. Senator.”  

You can follow Smith on X (formerly Twitter) @WaterWarriorOne. 

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email:[email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.