State Environmental Protection Agency Director of East Palestine, Ohio, Observes the Role of Norfolk Southern in the Desrailment of an Ohio Train
The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency traveled to East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday and said the agency plans to hold the train company Norfolk Southern accountable for its role in the derailment of a train carrying hazardous chemicals earlier this month.
The agency has the ability to use its enforcement capabilities during a crisis, according to Administrator Michael S. Regan.
“We issued a notice of accountability to the company, and they’ve signed that, indicating that they will be responsible for the cleanup,” Regan told CNN. I will use the full authority of the agency to ensure that this company is held accountable if new facts come to light.
Jami Cozza has lived in East Palestine for generations with her family, but she is staying in a hotel due to the toxicity of the derailed train.
State officials have said that the water in the municipal system is safe to drink. However, the state’s EPA encouraged residents who get water from private wells to get that water tested, the governor’s office said.
Despite the assurances, a chemical odor lingered days afterward and officials estimate thousands of fish were killed by contamination washing down streams and rivers, fueling residents’ concerns about water and air safety.
The Ohio River is Safe: Environmental Protection Against a Train Derailment at East Palestine and Implications for Water Quality, Public Health, and Disease Control
Hundreds of East Palestine residents attended a town hall Wednesday night to express their frustrations and mounting distrust. The train operator was going to attend but later withdrew due to safety concerns.
Regan visited the town Thursday and observed some of the remediation efforts following the hazardous train derailment. He said the state has primary responsibility over the scene but the EPA was prepared to partner and provide necessary resources.
“I want the community to know that we hear you, we see you, and that we will get to the bottom of this,” Regan said. We are testing for all volatile organic chemicals. We’re testing for everything that was on that train. We are casting a net wide so that we can show a picture that will protect the community.
Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday he has requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immediately send medical experts to East Palestine to evaluate and counsel community members with questions or health symptoms.
In anticipation of rainfall, emergency response teams have plans in place to prevent contaminants not yet removed from the derailment site from washing into local waterways during the storms, DeWine said in a statement.
The governor said that a chemical area in the Ohio River would be near Huntington, West Virginia, tomorrow. Testing results indicate that the chemical is currently well below a level the CDC considers hazardous, he said. No vinyl chloride has been detected in the Ohio River, he added, though agencies will continue sampling river water out of an abundance of caution.
DeWine said the Ohio Department of Agriculture continues to assure Ohioans that its food supply is safe and the risk to livestock remains low following the train derailment.
Mayor Trent Conaway: Why the Israeli train company backed out of the East Palestine train terminal after the deadly derailment on Thursday night in Los Alamos
“My concern is how many of those kids are laying in their bed in East Palestine right now that are not safe,” she said. I don’t trust them.
“There (were) two options: We either detonate those tanks, or they detonate themselves,” Mayor Trent Conaway told a group of reporters at Wednesday’s meeting. “Yes, harmful chemicals went into the air. I am truly sorry, but that is the only option we had. If we didn’t do that, then they were going to blow up, and we were going to have shrapnel all across this town.”
Conaway told reporters Wednesday night he needed help. I can do whatever it takes to make this right, because the village is on my back. I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere.”
Representatives of the train company were going to attend the meeting Wednesday night to provide information to residents about how they are handling the chemical crisis. But the company backed out, citing threats against its employees.
“We have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties,” the company said in a release.
A man who lives less than half a mile from where the train derailed said that the absence of the company at the meeting was a slap in the face.
Velez and his family are temporarily staying in rentals away from the town. He previously told CNN that when he checked out the town, a chemical odor left him with burning eyes and throat.
Most people didn’t want to go home, but they had to. So, all the people who had to go home were complaining of smells, pains in their throat, headaches, sickness,” he said. I have gone back several times, and the smell makes me sick. It hurts your head.”
Reply to the Comment on “The Rail Disaster in the United States and the Challenge of the Transportation Safety Commission” by A.D. Buttigieg
“I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t show up at the town hall meeting last night. The public deserves transparency,” he said. The public has a right to have the latest information. The federal government has to hold this company accountable, and I promise you that we will.
The railroad company told Cozza that it was safe to return home after the air testing was done. She demanded that the railroad company conduct soil and water tests in order to make her house safe.
“Had I not used my voice, had I not thrown a fit, I would be sitting in that house right now, when they told me that it was safe,” Cozza said Thursday.
Safety advocates say has Buttigieg been slow to respond to the rail disaster and the DOT has been slow to take up new rail safety regulations in the two years he’s been in the office. He said the industry was to blame for Congress limiting the DOT’s ability to act.
He wants Congress to untie the hands of the agency in regards to legislation that weakened the transportation department’s ability to enforce safety and accountability rules.
However, Buttigieg said that the safety of the American people should never be underestimated. The rail industry should be applauded for doing its part to improve rail safety, as the US Department of Transportation encourages Congress to work with them to raise the bar.
Buttigieg, who has faced some criticism for not visiting the crash site, says he has stayed away to allow the National Transportation Safety Board take the lead on the investigation of the cause and for emergency management to focus on the immediate response. He says he hopes to visit the site sometime in the future, but no date has been set.
Buttigieg told reporters on Monday that he wanted rail companies to do a better job of protecting tank cars with volatile or toxic substances. Older, weaker tank cars were meant to be phased out by the DOT. But Congress delayed that new tank car deadline until 2029.
“The maximum fine we can issue, even for egregious violations involving hazardous materials resulting in the loss of life, is just over $225,000,” he said. “For a multibillion-dollar rail company posting profits in the billions every year, it’s just not enough to have an adequate deterrent effect.”
Buttigieg added that the DOT is considering revising how it classifies certain toxic and volatile chemicals. While the derailed Norfolk Southern train was considered one carrying hazardous materials, it was not considered a “high hazard flammable train,” or HHFT, which requires certain safety protocols be followed.
And he says he wants to move forward on requiring trains carrying such hazardous materials be equipped with a higher level, electronically controlled braking system. In 2015, the DOT enacted a rule requiring electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on trains with more than 20 HHFT cars, but Congress mandated a cost benefit analysis be conducted before it could take effect, and then in 2017, the Trump administration repealed the rule.
What are the risks of the East Palestine tragedy? A pedagogical warning on a cost of doing business in the wake of East Palestine
Buttigieg said that they can’t treat the disasters as a cost of doing business. I believe that there is a chance for Congress to raise the bar on safety in the wake of what happened in East Palestine.