Oroville Mercury-Register

EPA chief at train derailment site: ‘trust the government’

- By Patrick Orsagos

>> 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 neighbors 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 odors aren’t dangerous.

“They just danced around the questions a lot,” said Danielle Deal, who lives a few miles from the derailment site. “Norfolk needed to be here.”

At least five lawsuits have been filed against the railroad, which announced this week that it is creating a $1 million fund to help the community while continuing to remove spilled contaminan­ts from the ground and streams and monitoring air quality.

“We are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive,” Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said in a letter to the community.

Families who evacuated said they want assistance figuring out how to get the promised financial help. Beyond that, they want to know whether the railroad will be held responsibl­e.

State and federal officials have promised to make sure Norfolk Southern not only pays for the cleanup but also reimburses residents.

The White House said teams from the federal health and emergency response and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will go to East Palestine.

“We understand the residents are concerned — as they should be —- and they have questions. That’s all understand­able,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “And we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

No one was injured when about 50 cars derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of East Palestine on Feb. 3.

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