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EPA ‘failed to protect’ East Palestine residents after train derailment: Whistleblower


(NewsNation) — An EPA whistleblower has stepped forward, saying the Environmental Protection Agency deviated from normal procedures when testing for chemical contamination after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

On Feb. 6, 2023, officials in East Palestine, Ohio, vented and burned five tank cars full of vinyl chloride after a Norfolk Southern train derailed near the town.

Three days later, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the all-clear for evacuated residents to return to the area. Immediately, people in the area began complaining of sickness and rashes.

“I undressed to get into the shower, and I had a rash all over the side of my face on both sides and all over my chest,” said resident Katlyn Schwarzwaelder. 

EPA Chief Michael Reagan, visiting East Palestine, praised the work of the EPA, giving specific credit to the high-tech plane they used to detect chemical compounds in the air, called ASPECT.

“We’ve had boots on the ground, leading robust air quality testing, including the advanced technology ASPECT plane,” Reagan said. 

Scientist Robert Kroutil spent four decades helping to create the ASPECT program, originally for the Department of Defense and later as a contractor with the EPA. 

Now, he’s blowing the whistle on the EPA and their use of the ASPECT plane in the disaster in East Palestine.

“That deployment was the most unusual deployment I’ve ever seen,” Kroutil told NewsNation. “You just wouldn’t do it that way.”

He said the EPA’s protocol is to have the plane in the air within hours of a chemical disaster. He added that, in all his missions, he has never seen a response like the one in East Palestine.

“In East Palestine, we had a big delay,” Kroutil said. “There was a big delay in getting the aircraft to Pittsburgh.” 

Kroutil said the delay was five days long but he had no idea why. 

“I’m still asking myself that question,” he said. “Why would you deploy this aircraft five days late?” 

The plane should have been there immediately, flying and gathering data for days, according to Kroutil. 

“We should be collecting data on the 4th, the 5th, the 6th, multiple flights on the 7th,” he said. “We should be there at least two weeks to monitor the situation.”

But that’s not what happened, a deviation from the usual disaster response. 

  • USEPA’s Airborne Spectralphotometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) aircraft. USEPA photo by Eric Vance
  • USEPA’s Airborne Spectralphotometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) aircraft. USEPA photo by Eric Vance
  • USEPA’s Airborne Spectralphotometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) team members. Left to right, John Cardarelli, Team Leader, Mark Thomas, Rich Rousseau, Dave Wheeler, Paul Fletcher, Bob Kroutil, Paul Lewis,Tim Curry, and Paul Kudarauskas. USEPA photo by Eric Vance

The plane should have been collecting data while the toxic plume was in the air, Kroutil said.

“We only were deployed for two missions on Feb. 7. By that time the plumes were out, the fire was out. It was after the event and burn, so that was not the time to actually use this particular aircraft,” he said. “The aircraft only collected data, eight minutes worth of data with the targets.” 

Usually, the plane would collect 100 minutes of data, Kroutil told NewsNation. He said scientists looked at the data and determined it was inconclusive, but the final posted EPA report did not reflect that assessment of the data.

Even more troubling, he said the plane turned off the chemical sensors over the creeks in East Palestine.

“The program manager informed the operator, to turn those sensors off, when we’re flying up a couple of creeks,” he said. 

That’s not normal protocol, according to Kroutil, and there was no reason given as to why they sensors would be turned off.

“I’ve done 180 different responses,” Kroutil said. “I’ve never heard the program manager tell us to turn the sensor off when collecting data.”

When he raised the issue with a program manager, he never got a response. 

The Government Accountability Project has stepped forward to offer Kroutil legal protections as a whistleblower. 

“The EPA didn’t gather the chemical information that it could have gathered to inform first responders, the community, government officials, to protect the public,” said Lesley Pacey, an investigator with the GAP. “They could have done this and they didn’t. The question is why.”

In a statement to NewsNation, the EPA said Kroutil’s characterization of the response was false and pointed to a Feb. 7, 2023, report. The agency claimed the flight was unable to fly safely on Feb. 6, 2023, due to weather conditions. 

“Within hours of the derailment on Feb. 3, 2023, EPA responders were on-scene, establishing a robust air monitoring network at the site and within the community. EPA’s ASPECT plane was just one component of a comprehensive air monitoring and sampling network that included several instruments to collect air samples and measure contaminants at and around the site,” the agency said.

The EPA said they found no sustained chemicals of concern in the air after the evacuation was lifted. It also said Kroutil was not part of the ASPECT flight crew responsible for the determination of flight safety and refused to comment further on internal personnel matters.

Kroutil said he checked the weather data and disagrees with the EPA, saying the plane would have been safe to fly at 2,000 feet instead of the usual 2,800 feet.

In addition, Kroutil said he was even told not to write the words East Palestine in his reports. 

“We were told not to put the words East Palestine in any emails sent to the program manager,” he said. 

Potentially, not including the term would mean those communications would not be included in response to Freedom of Information Act requests about the disaster. 

Kroutil decided to file his own FOIA request, to get more information on the actual mission of the flight. Then his job was threatened.

“I was told that I’d be fired within 24 hours if I didn’t rescind my FOIA request,” he said.

He rescinded the request. 

Then he resigned.

Now, Kroutil is speaking out, for one simple reason. 

“Because it’s the truth,” he said. 

Read the full documents related to Kroutil’s claims here: