It will require more than free car washes to scrub away the uneasiness some Ohio Valley residents feel about an industrial waste incinerator in East Liverpool. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials should be looking at whether the facility needs to be subjected to new public health safeguards.
On Saturday afternoon, a malfunction at the Heritage-Thermal hazardous waste incinerator released a cloud of ash into the air. Some residents in the area reported the ash appeared pink in color, and settled on cars, homes and the ground. A few people said they were concerned about inhaling the substance.
No health problems had been reported by Tuesday afternoon. Still, an OEPA official's suggestion raised concern about that. The agency's Mike Settles recommended residents in the area wash any garden vegetables or fruit from outside before consuming it. He also said that "to be on the safe side," outside pet food and water containers should be cleaned.
OEPA analysts have collected samples of the ash and will test it. "It will take some time" for that to be completed, Settles said.
Obviously, the testing process should be expedited. People on whose property the ash fell - and who may have breathed in small quantities of it - will be anxious to know what was in the substance.
Meanwhile, Heritage-Thermal was sending workers through the affected neighborhoods, offering to clean the ash off property. Free coupons for car washes also were being handed out.
A Heritage-Thermal official also said the company would be glad to test samples of the residue brought in by local residents.
All that is an appropriate reaction to the accident - but far from the only result area residents have a right to expect.
Coincidentally, the incinerator was idled Sunday for maintenance work that was scheduled to consume most of this month.
It should not be restarted until OEPA officials have looked into the accident and been satisfied safeguards are in place to prevent discharges of harmful materials from the incinerator. If new limits on its operation are needed, the agency should establish them. Given the fact the facility handles hazardous substances, residents in East Liverpool - and elsewhere in the path of wind-blown discharges - have a right to expect protection against possibly toxic chemicals in the air.