Ohio train derailment: Biden EPA administrator, Sens. JD Vance, Sherrod Brown to visit East Palestine clean-up

The administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Sens. JD Vance and Sherrod Brown will visit the train derailment site in East Palestine Thursday, a day after Norfolk Southern snubbed residents by skipping out on an informational town hall, citing safety concerns for employees.

Vance, a Republican newly sworn into office at the start of the year, will hold his own press conference at 11:15 a.m. – 45 minutes before Brown, a Democratic, will join Michael Regan, the EPA administrator under the Biden administration, for an event of their own at the East Palestine derailment site.

Vance sent a letter to the CEO of Norfolk Southern requesting the company expand its existing reimbursement program to include all East Palestine residents. He and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg demanding answers on the derailment.

Together, Vance and Brown, as well as Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, both Democats representing Pennsylvania, sent a letter to Regan raising concerns about the release of hazardous chemicals in East Palestine. The quartet has also sent a letter to the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board highlighting rail safety concerns.


Thursday’s planned visit comes a day after hundreds of worried people packed into the East Palestine High School gymnasium Wednesday evening to hear local and state officials insist yet again that testing shows local air is safe to breathe so far and promise that air and water monitoring would continue.

At one point, the crowd demanded to know, “Where is Pete!” referring to Buttigieg.

Those attending the informational session, originally billed as a town hall meeting, had questions over health hazards and demanded more transparency from Norfolk Southern, which did not attend.

“Today, we hoped to join local, state and federal officials at a town hall to update the eats Palestine community on the steps we are taking to thoroughly, responsibly, and safely clean up the accident site and to provide the latest results from ongoing water and air testing,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement obtained by Fox News Digital. “We also wanted to be available to provide information on resources from our Family Assistance Center. At the same time, we know that many are rightfully angry and frustrated right now. Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this even stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening. 

“We want to continue our dialogue with the community and address their concerns, and our people will remain in East Palestine, respond to this situation, and meet with residents,” the railroad operator added. “We are not going anywhere.” 

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost advised Norfolk Southern on Wednesday that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator.

“The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,” Yost said in a letter to the company.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency said the latest tests show five wells supplying the village’s drinking water are free from contaminants. But the EPA also recommends testing for private water wells because they are closer to the surface.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates spilled contaminants affected more than 7 miles of streams and killed some 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters.

There have been anecdotal reports that pets or livestock have been sickened. No related animal deaths have been confirmed, state officials said, but that confirmation would require necropsies and lab work to determine the connection to the incident.

Norfolk Southern announced Tuesday that it is creating a $1 million 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. It also will expand how many residents can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs, covering the entire village and surrounding area.

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 rail car axle is suspected to be the cause of the derailment, and the National Transportation Safety Board said it has a video appearing to show a wheel bearing overheating just beforehand. The NTSB said it expects its preliminary report in about two weeks.

Fox News’ Andrew Mark Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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