Environment /

EPA Administrator Visits East Palestine Rather Than African Climate Change Tour

Administrator Michael Regan announced his agency intends to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for the area’s cleanup

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency visited the site of a major train derailment and controlled chemical burn to announce the federal government will hold Norfolk Southern legally responsible.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan will make a second trip to East Palestine, Ohio rather than attend a week-long climate change tour of Africa with actor Idris Elba. He tweeted on Feb. 20 that “the health and safety of this community” is his agency’s top priority. 

Residents of East Palestine have expressed serious concerns about their health and well-being despite assurance from the federal government that the air quality is safe. More than 3,500 fish in the areas have died as a result of chemical contamination. Residents have reported sick house pets and chickens. Other people who live within a one-mile radius of the burn site have reported experiencing respiratory issues, sore throats, and headaches, per Fox News. There is ongoing concern that the chemicals released into the environment will increase residents’ risk of cancer

The Greater Cincinnati Water Works shut of water intake from the Ohio River on Feb. 19 and continues to monitor for chemical contamination. The GCWW is testing for butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and ethylhexyl acrylate.

The Ohio Health Department and the Columbiana County Health Department opened a clinic for residents with assistance from the US Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 20. 

To assuage fears, the Ohio EPA shared a photo on Feb. 17 of Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, and Representative Bill Johnson holding plastic cups of water, claiming the public figures “are happy to see good data results that show the water in the village is safe to drink.”

Norfolk Southern, the company that operates the over 100-car train that was transporting hazardous materials, is facing a lawsuit from the state of Ohio. 

“After Norfolk Southern’s train derailed, the company caused the release of hazardous materials into the air, land, and surface and ground waters in and around East Palestine,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a Feb. 15 letter to the company’s president and CEO Alan Shaw, per NBC News. “The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm. Local residents and Ohio’s waters have been damaged as a result.”

The EPA released a “legally binding” order on Feb. 21 tasking the company with “all necessary actions associated with the cleanup” from the derailment. Norfolk Southern must “identify and clean up contaminated soil and water resources,” “reimburse EPA for cleaning services to be offered to residents and businesses to provide an additional layer of reassurance, which will be conducted by EPA staff and contractors,” “attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online,” “pay for all EPA costs for work performed under this order.

The EPA says it must approve the company’s work plan outline. Additionally, if the company fails to complete the ordered actions, the agency will complete the work and charge Norfolk Southern three times the cost.

“Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” said Regan. “As we transition from emergency response, EPA will continue to coordinate closely with our local, state, and federal partners through a whole-of-government approach to support the East Palestine community during the remediation phase. To the people of East Palestine, EPA stands with you now and for as long as it may take.”

During his first trip to East Palestine on Feb. 5, Regan said residents should use bottled water and have private wells tested. He also said vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride had not been found in 480 voluntary home screenings. 

The EPA also rescheduled Regan’s trip two days after former President Donald Trump announced he will visit East Palestine. Trump won Columbiana County, where the train derailment occurred, by 68.7% during the 2016 election and 71.7% in 2020.

*For corrections please email [email protected]*