EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio village upended by a freight train derailment and the intentional burning of some of the hazardous chemicals on board has invited affected residents to a town hall meeting Wednesday evening to discuss lingering questions.
Gov. Mike DeWine, asked at a news conference on Tuesday whether he would feel safe as an area resident in the wake of the disaster, responded that he would be “drinking the bottled water, [and] I would be alert and concerned, but I would probably be back in my house.”
First-term U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author who pivoted hard toward Trumpism in a scrappy Republican primary in Ohio, complained in Fox News appearances that the Biden administration was not responding appropriately, while Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and others have suggested on social media that there has been no national, mainstream media interest in the story of the derailment and its aftermath.
“‘Look, the president called me and said, “Anything you need.” I have not called him back after that conversation. We will not hesitate to do that if we’re seeing a problem or anything, but I’m not seeing it.’”
DeWine, a second-term Republican, said he had been contacted after the disaster by President Joe Biden, who, he said, offered any necessary federal assistance. Said DeWine at the Tuesday news briefing: “Look, the president called me and said, ‘Anything you need.’ I have not called him back after that conversation. We will not hesitate to do that if we’re seeing a problem or anything, but I’m not seeing it.”
See: How worried should people be about the Ohio derailment aftermath?
Also: The Ohio train derailment: 6 things to know
DeWine said “our Ohio EPA works with the U.S. EPA” and “the federal government is conducting an investigation to determine why this wreck occurred.”
From the archives (October 2022): Tim Ryan quips J.D. Vance is an ‘ass kisser’ during pair’s first Senate debate: ‘Ohio needs an ass kicker’
In East Palestine and its environs, there are plenty of questions — about the huge plumes of smoke, the persisting odors, the reports of sick or dead animals, the potential impact on drinking water, all the cleaning up.
Even as school has resumed and trains are rolling by again, things aren’t the same.
In and around East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania state line, people are asking whether the air and water around them is safe for people, pets and livestock. They want assistance navigating the financial help the railroad offered hundreds of families who evacuated, and they want to know whether it will be held responsible for what happened.
Rail operator Norfolk Southern
announced Tuesday that it is also creating a $1 million charitable fund to help the community of some 4,700 people while continuing remediation work, including removing spilled contaminants from the ground and streams and monitoring air quality.
“We will be judged by our actions,” Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement. “We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.”
No one was injured when about 50 cars derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of East Palestine on Feb. 3. As fears grew about a potential explosion, officials seeking to avoid an uncontrolled blast had the area evacuated and opted to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke billowing into the sky again.
A mechanical issue with a railcar axle has been identified as the suspected cause of the derailment, and the National Transportation Safety Board said it has video appearing to show a wheel bearing overheating just beforehand. The NTSB said it expects its preliminary report in about two weeks.
Misinformation and exaggerations spread online, and state and federal officials have repeatedly offered assurances that air monitoring hasn’t detected any remaining concerns. Even low levels of contaminants that aren’t considered hazardous can create lingering odors or symptoms such as headaches, Ohio’s health director said Tuesday.
Precautions also are being taken to ensure contaminants that reached the Ohio River don’t make it into drinking water.
Ohio officials conceded it was true that fish had died in area waterways, putting the number at 3,500.
The exposure risk to humans, however, Ohio officials have said, is low.
Read on: Federal lawsuit over Ohio-Pennsylvania train derailment seeks free medical testing for residents of region