Ag Policy Blog

Ohio Department of Ag: No Reason to Suspect Crop Concerns Around East Palestine

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio. Farmers in the area are still dealing with the aftermath and USDA now has a disaster response team to help test soils and see what kind of aid might be available for producers in the area. Right now, there is no reason to believe that crops planted in the soil are not safe. (Associated Press photo)

OMAHA (DTN) – While USDA was starting soil testing last week around East Palestine, Ohio, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has NO reason to believe that crops planted in the area are not safe for consumption.

In an article last week, I failed to type the word "no" in the comment, leading to an error that needs to be corrected.

USDA on Thursday started conducting soil tests for farmers and homeowners in the area looking for toxic residues left from the Norfolk Southern Railroad derailment last month in East Palestine, Ohio.

Robert Bonnie, USDA's undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, told DTN at the Commodity Classic farm show that USDA had teams starting to conduct soil tests as part of their disaster response.

"We've got producers in right around East Palestine, where they have concerns about, are there impacts of their livestock, are there impacts to livestock feed, to their fields to their hay," Bonnie said. "So we're working closely with EPA, Department of Transportation with FEMA, to be able to provide those resources to provide technical assistance, to help them test where we can and understand some of that testing is going start to happen today."

The federal government over the past month has brought more agencies to bare on the early February derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railroad train in eastern Ohio that was carrying vinyl chloride. The soil testing is being conducted in around a two-mile radius from the derailment, where emergency crews and officials opted to burn off the vinyl chloride following the derailment.

"It's only in about a two-mile radius, but we do have some producers that are within that circle," Bonnie said. "We're going to we're going to do everything we can, even though it's a manmade disaster. And as you know, many of our programs are about natural disasters, we'll look to provide the authorities we can do to help them and to work with our producers on the ground."

In Ohio, WOIO Channel 19 reported Thursday that area farmers around East Palestine met Thursday with the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). "According to the ODA, there is no reason to believe crops planted in the soil area are not safe for consumption," the TV station reported.

ODA also announced that it is working with The Ohio State University and agricultural partners in Columbiana County to develop a plan for the testing of milk, eggs, and plant materials.

USDA has staff from Ohio's Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeing what resources are available in the area. USDA Rural Development also is there to assess what might be done to help people with housing and potentially rural business loans.

Bonnie noted USDA is increasingly finding itself operating as a disaster response department. He pointed out that beyond the team in East Palestine, USDA has disaster response right now in New Mexico dealing with the aftermath of wildfires last year and Florida due to lasting impacts from Hurricane Nicole last year as well.

"So more and more, we're finding ourselves in these situations where we need to have our teams ready part of a sort of an incident management team, if you will, to be able to work with other federal agencies in the wake of this and other disasters," Bonnie said. "It's more and more of something we have to respond to and we're building capacity in the agencies to deal with it."

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified Thursday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Shaw apologized to the community over the impacts of the toxic-chemical derailment.

"I want to begin today by expressing how deeply sorry I am for the impact this derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities," Shaw said. "I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive."

Senators grilled Shaw and those lawmakers from Ohio and Pennsylvania repeatedly pointed out that area residents are fearful for both their water and air in the vicinity of the derailment.

Shaw pointed out Norfolk Southern has committed $21 million so far to help eastern Ohio and another $7.5 million to Pennsylvania for a community relief fund.

Also see, "Stricter Rail Safety Rules Proposed, One Faces Pushback by Railroads,"…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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