Environment /

Biden Administration Says Ohio is Ineligible for Federal Disaster Assistance

State officials have warned a chemical plume in the Ohio River is expected to reach Huntington, West Virginia

The Federal Emergency Management Agency told Ohio that it does not qualify for disaster assistance after 50 train cars derailed, caught fire, and necessitate a controlled chemical burn.

Residents of the area around East Palestine, Ohio have expressed concern about air and water quality because of the environment’s exposure to vinyl chloride and other hazardous materials. Fears have increased after the state’s Department of Natural Resources confirmed 3,500 fish had died in water near the burn site.

The federal agency reportedly told Governor Mike DeWine’s office that because the derailment and chemical spill was not a “traditional disaster, such as a tornado or hurricane,” Ohio cannot receive funding to support recovery efforts. 

“The DeWine Administration has been in daily contact with FEMA to discuss the need for federal support, however FEMA continues to tell Governor DeWine that Ohio is not eligible for assistance at this time,” DeWine’s office told Fox News on Feb. 16. “Governor DeWine will continue working with FEMA to determine what assistance can be provided.”

DeWine has also requested support from the United States Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately two weeks after the train’s initial derailment, both federal agencies have now been sent to Ohio. The agencies’ workers will join teams from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Transportation Security Board, per E&E News.

“EPA is working hand in glove with the state of Ohio. And I — we think that’s really important,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a press briefing on Feb. 14. “The administration has been in close touch with local officials to ensure that they have what they need and that their needs are being met.”

Jean-Pierre said the federal EPA is overseeing air quality evaluations while the Ohio EPA is managing surface and groundwater testing.

Ohio Senator J.D. Vance shared a video of a rainbow cloud, which is presumed to be chemical, rising from agitated water in an Ohio stream. Vance challenged the EPA to drink the water in East Palestine to prove that it was safe.

“My guidance to people is to continue to drink the bottled water. We don’t know,” Vance said in the Feb. 16 video. “Look, people say that the air is clean. I would like to believe that that’s true. I also have been here for all of three hours, and it doesn’t smell great to me.”

“Thankfully, the air problem is a much shorter-term problem than the water problem,” he added. 

DeWine’s office and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have warned that a chemical plume in the Ohio River is expected to reach Huntington, West Virginia on Feb. 17. In a press release, the governor’s office said the plume is comprised of butyl acrylate – a clear, colorless liquid notable for its fruity odor. No vinyl chloride has been detected in the Ohio River.

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