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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Another, Possibly Deadlier, Ohio Eco-Disaster Still Festers Near Train Derailment Site

'Here’s the difference: You saw wreckage of a train, you saw an explosion, you saw fire, and you see dead fish. Nuclear material is silent, invisible, and it’s a deadly killer...'

(Ken Silva, Headline USASome 200 miles from the toxic train derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, another environmental disaster still festers due to years of neglect by the U.S. government.

This other environmental disaster in Piketon, Ohio, the home of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, also known as PORTS.

In the Cold War era, the U.S. government used PORTS to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs. Then, in the 1990s, the site was likely the recipient of polluted uranium from Russia in the 1990s due to a Bill Clinton-era program called “Swords to Ploughshares,” which entailed the United States converting Soviet Union nuclear warheads to uranium that could be used to power U.S. nuclear reactors.

Now, Piketon has a cancer problem—more than 500 cases per 100,000, or about 10% above state average, according to the Ohio Cancer Atlas.

Former PORTS worker Jeff Walburn told Headline USA that the disaster in Piketon could be worse than even what the people in East Palestine are dealing with.

“Here’s the difference: You saw wreckage of a train, you saw an explosion, you saw fire, and you see dead fish. Nuclear material is silent, invisible, and it’s a deadly killer. And the chemicals being transported outside of the plant to the community are just as deadly, but you’re not seeing the explosion or fire,” he said.

As someone who’s tried to hold the companies and federal agencies responsible for poisoning his community accountable for decades, Walburn also has advice for the residents of East Palestine.

“They can learn a lot from Piketon: Don’t take information on face value. Get independent investigators and chemists instead of relying on the government or [Norfolk Southern] … They need counseling, they need investigations by independent doctors,” he said.

“They need to stay away from rapid statements, and they need to form investigative committees—not with politicians; they need to have scientists, universities, hospitals—because this is going to be a long-lasting thing.”

Walburn said he doesn’t have much hope that the Environmental Protection Agency or other agencies will be much help for East Palestine. After all, they’ve continued to ignore Piketon through numerous presidential administrations.

Indeed, the U.S. government largely treated environmental issues at PORTS as a dispute between labor and the various contractors who operated the Department of Energy-owned site.

Finally, in 2019, a good-citizen scientist conducted an independent study of the surrounding area. Dr. Michael Ketterer of Northern Arizona University reported discovery of the presence of enriched uranium and other radioactive material at a middle school is about four miles northeast of PORTS.

This led to the DOE admitting to having detected radioactive americium in the air monitor near the middle school in 2017, sparking outrage in the community that the federal government had kept information about nuclear contamination hidden from them.

The DOE promised change, starting with the funding of a comprehensive test to discover the full scope of contamination.

But more than three years later, the results of that study still aren’t public, Walburn told Headline USA.

Walburn added that at a recent meeting with the EPA on Feb. 15, his friend and fellow former PORTS worker Charles Lawson presented the agency with more evidence that the DOE is covering up how widespread the nuclear contamination is.

Walburn said he’s still waiting for when all the evidence of wrongdoing they’ve uncovered to make a difference.

“We have a plethora of evidence,” he said. “When do we get to come to the table, and present our documents at a state or federal hearing? When do we get that?”

Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.

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