EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Scientist Stephen Lester says there is no doubt in his mind that dioxins were released during the Feb. 6 controlled burn of vinyl chloride. He says the EPA’s reasoning for not testing is a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”

According to United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 administrator Debra Shore, the agency will not test for the highly toxic chemical compound dioxins at this time.

“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have baseline information in this area to do a proper test. But, we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it,” Shore said.

Dioxins refers to a group of toxic chemical compounds. Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.

“I think they’re reluctant to test, because they know they will find it, and they will be put in a place where they have to address it,” said Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. 

Lester says exposure to dioxins can lead to severe types of cancer.

“The level of dioxin that gets into a body, a person, an animal, a cow, that could lead to health problems is extraordinarily low. It does not take very much,” Lester said. “I’d be very concerned if I had a farm, especially if I was aware, as some people described in that meeting, that the black cloud from the burning had settle onto their property.”

Dioxins can take decades to fully break down and dissolve. Once released, they can settle on surfaces, plants, in water and in soil. Lester says he would be concerned with the amount of farmland and livestock in Columbiana County.

On Feb. 18, senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance sent a letter to the EPA requesting that the agency test for dioxins. However, the EPA did not feel it necessary at this time. 

“We did receive a letter from Sen. Brown and Sen. Vance. Our toxicologists are taking a look. Unfortunately, we don’t have any baseline information about the levels of dioxins which are produced also by wildfires, by backyard grilling, by a host of other things,” Shore said.

Lester says he has no knowledge of backyard grilling producing a dangerous amount of dioxin.

“I’ve never heard anybody, any researcher talk about cookouts. Because that’s an infinitesimal concentration, if at all. Because dioxins form not just cause there’s burning, you need a chlorine source,” Lester said.

Lester says even if there is no baseline from prior testing to compare levels, the EPA should still be able to do testing to determine if the level that’s there is a risk.