Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

U.S. defends Ohio derailment response

White House says it has mobilized a ‘robust’ team to support worried residents

- MATTHEW DALY Informatio­n for this article was contribute­d by Patrick Orsagos of The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administra­tion Friday defended its response to a toxic freight train derailment in Ohio two weeks ago, even as local leaders and members of Congress demanded that more be done.

The Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, left toxic chemicals spilled or burned off, prompting evacuation­s and fears of contaminat­ion by residents distrustfu­l of the state and federal response.

The White House said it has “mobilized a robust, multi-agency effort to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio,” and noted that officials from the Environmen­tal Protection Agency, National Transporta­tion Safety Board and other agencies were at the rural site within hours of the derailment of the Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride and other toxic substances.

“When these incidents happen, you need to let the emergency response take place,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.

EPA Administra­tor Michael Regan visited the site Thursday and sought to reassure residents that the water is fit for drinking and the air safe to breathe.

Officials are “testing for everything that was on that train,” he said.

No other Cabinet member has visited the rural village, where many evacuated as crews conducted a controlled burn of toxic chemicals from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding.

Administra­tion officials insisted their response has been immediate and effective.

“We’ve been on the ground since February 4 … and we are committed to supporting the people of East Palestine every step of the way,” Jean-Pierre said.

Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has faced criticism from lawmakers for not visiting the site, said the Ohio disaster was just one of many derailment­s that occur each year.

A train hauling hazardous materials derailed Thursday near Detroit, but none spilled, officials said.

Buttigieg tweeted Friday that his department “will hold Norfolk Southern accountabl­e for any safety violations found to have contribute­d to the disaster” and will be guided by the findings of the transporta­tion safety board’s independen­t investigat­ion.

President Joe Biden has offered federal assistance to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Pennsylvan­ia Gov. Josh Shapiro, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been coordinati­ng with the state emergency operations center and other partners, the White House said.

In response to a request from DeWine and Ohio’s congressio­nal delegation, the Health and Human Services Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sending a team of medical personnel and toxicologi­sts to Ohio to conduct public health testing and assessment­s.

The team will support federal, state and local officials already on the ground to evaluate people who were exposed or potentiall­y exposed to chemicals, officials said.

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

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

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he spoke with Biden on Friday and was assured that any assistance the state needs will be given.

“The president is all in on getting FEMA” to provide direct assistance to the state, and is “all in on holding Norfolk Southern accountabl­e,” Brown told an online news conference.

Ohio state Sen. Michael Rulli, a Republican whose district includes East Palestine, said Buttigieg should resign over the Transporta­tion Department’s inaction.

“He should be ashamed,” Rulli said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who toured the site Thursday with Regan and Brown, sent a letter Friday asking the EPA to provide detailed informatio­n about the derailment, including the controlled burn conducted last week and testing plans for air and water quality.

“The community must be able to trust their air, water and soil is not a threat to their health following this train derailment,” Johnson said.

While Regan’s visit was helpful, officials need to implement policies to protect the public health and prevent this from happening again, said David Masur, executive director of PennEnviro­nment.

 ?? (AP/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Lucy Schaly) ?? Ohio EPA officials, including director Anne Vogel (left), take a tour Thursday of the damage from a Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
(AP/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Lucy Schaly) Ohio EPA officials, including director Anne Vogel (left), take a tour Thursday of the damage from a Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

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