The Hamilton Spectator

Trust the government, EPA chief at derailment site says


EAST PALESTINE, OHIO The head of the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency got a first-hand look Thursday at the toll left by a freight train derailment in Ohio, where toxic chemicals spilled or were burned off, leaving the stench of fresh paint nearly two weeks later.

EPA administra­tor Michael Regan, who walked along a creek that still reeks of chemicals, sought to reassure skeptical residents that the water is fit for drinking and the air safe to breathe around East Palestine, where just under 5,000 people live near the Pennsylvan­ia state line.

“I’m asking they trust the government. I know that’s hard. We know there’s a lack of trust,” Regan said. “We’re testing for everything that was on that train.”

Since the derailment, residents have complained about headaches and irritated eyes and finding their cars and lawns covered in soot. The hazardous chemicals that spilled from the train killed thousands of fish, and residents have talked about finding dying or sick pets and wildlife.

Residents are frustrated by what they say is incomplete and vague informatio­n about the lasting effects from the disaster, which prompted evacuation­s.

“I have three grandbabie­s,” said Kathy Dyke, who came with hundreds of her neighbours to a public meeting Wednesday where representa­tives of railroad operator Norfolk Southern were conspicuou­sly absent. “Are they going to grow up here in five years and have cancer?”

Regan said Thursday that anyone who is fearful of being in their home should seek testing from the government.

“People have been unnerved. They’ve been asked to leave their homes,” he said, adding that if he lived there, he would be willing to move his family back into the area as long as the testing shows it’s safe.

Those attending the previous night’s informatio­nal session had questions about health hazards and demanded more transparen­cy from Norfolk Southern, which did not attend, citing concerns about its staff safety. Many who had waited in a long line snaking outside the high school gymnasium came away upset that they didn’t hear anything new. Some booed or laughed each time they heard the village mayor or state health director assure them that lingering odours aren’t dangerous.

“They just danced around the questions a lot,” said Danielle Deal, who lives a few kilometres from the derailment site.

At least five lawsuits have been filed against the railroad, which announced this week that it is creating a $1-million (U.S.) fund to help the community.

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