Whistleblower alleges mistakes in initial East Palestine disaster response

The Environmental Protection Agency disputed whistleblower claims of mistakes and “no confidence” in early data collected from the site where a Norfolk-Southern train hauling caustic materials derailed along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border last year.

A person who said he helped craft the technology and interpret data from advanced radiological sensors on a high-tech EPA plane used to survey the damage and take hazmat readings told The Associated Press the aircraft was enlisted too late. In turn, the whistleblower told the outlet, it may have been unnecessary to burn off toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars in a controlled release.

The EPA’s “ASPECT” single-engine turboprop based in Texas hosts what the agency calls a “suite of sensors and software” that provides vital data collection assistance in disaster areas. Those tools include an infrared line scanner, various spectrometers and a digital mapping camera, among other abilities.

Robert Kroutil told the AP the plane didn’t fly over the site, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, until a day after the controlled release of vinyl chloride. 


“We could tell the data provided from the ASPECT plane’s two East Palestine flights on Feb. 7 was incomplete and irregular. We had no confidence in the data. We could not trust it,” said Kroutil, whose team considered the results of the flyover to be inconclusive, alleging chemical sensors were not active when the aircraft flew over now-polluted creeks in the area.

In comments to NewsNation, Kroutil called the deployment “the most unusual … I’ve ever seen.”

In a lengthy response to a Fox News Digital inquiry, the EPA pushed back on the allegations, saying whistleblower characterizations of the ASPECT plane’s response are “false,” adding weather conditions prevented the plane from prompt surveying of the location.

“EPA Region 5 [in the Midwest] requested ASPECT to fly to East Palestine late in the day on February 5, 2023. As soon as the request was made, the aircraft was deployed the same day from its home base in Addison, Texas, to Pittsburgh. Due to low ceilings and icing conditions, the flight crew made the determination that the aircraft was unable to fly safely on February 6, 2023, the day of the controlled burn.”


When Mother Nature cooperated the following day, ASPECT flew two missions over the location, the agency said, adding that EPA staff was already on scene “establishing a robust air monitoring network … within the community.”

The EPA told Fox News Digital readings from the ground on the first two days – before the plane flew over – depicted contaminants to be below detection levels with the exception of particulates. It said Kroutil, “the contractor mentioned,” was not part of the ASPECT flight crew in Ohio and that the agency does not comment on internal personnel matters relating to contractors.

Since the disaster, the agency said it has collected 28,000 air samples and that, in the time since residents were allowed back to their homes, there have not been “sustained chemicals of concern found in the air.” The agency added it will continue to honor public records requests and be transparent in its response to the tragedy.

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said that when it comes to whistleblowers, anyone with time-sensitive and pertinent information has been asked repeatedly to come forward, including in the immediate aftermath of the Norfolk-Southern spill. 

“They failed to bring it forward,” a spokesman for DeWine said. 

“If there was a person who had knowledge at the time … they knew who was in charge and it was very clear who was on the ground,” he said, adding that Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, and DeWine publicly made the same plea.


“We do understand there are experts who had other opinions [on the disaster response]. … Vance said no one brought [further information] forward,” the spokesman added.

Requests seeking comment from Vance’s office went unanswered, but the senator notably called President Biden’s visit to East Palestine one year after the derailment “pure politics” and akin to a “political stunt.”

Across the nearby Pennsylvania border, waterways, air and land were similarly affected by the disaster, including in the Beaver County district of State Sen. Elder Vogel, Jr.

“It is very disheartening to hear that these alleged delays and botched response approaches took place – especially since those in East Palestine, Ohio, and areas in my district here in Pennsylvania have been dealing with the aftermath of this derailment for over a year now,” Vogel told Fox News Digital regarding the whistleblower’s account prior to EPA pushback.

“Earlier intervention could have made a difference following the derailment and better assisted those responding to the incident.” 

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R–Pa., of Gettysburg, held at least two hearings in Beaver County in response to the disaster, including one in March where residents sounded off about how they are still feeling long-term effects. 

In April, Mastriano, Vogel and State Sen. Michele Brooks launched an effort to allow Pennsylvania-based victims of the disaster to claim an added tax deduction on any payouts from Norfolk-Southern.

Fox News Digital further reached out to Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, who was also a public fixture in the aftermath of the disaster, but did not receive a response by press time. Calls placed to officials in the city of East Palestine for comment also went unanswered. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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