In an announcement from the White House on Wednesday, it was revealed that President Joe Biden plans to visit East Palestine, Ohio, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a train derailment that led to a hazardous chemical spill. The visit, scheduled for February, will include meetings with affected residents and an assessment of the administration’s efforts to support the community and hold Norfolk Southern, the responsible railroad, accountable.
The incident, which occurred on February 3, 2023, resulted in the release of dangerous chemicals like vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl. To prevent a potential explosion, vinyl chloride-filled tank cars were deliberately set on fire, causing further environmental contamination.
Despite reassurances from federal, state, and local authorities regarding the safety of air, groundwater, and drinking water in East Palestine and neighboring areas, concerns persist among residents about lingering pollution and potential health impacts.
President Biden’s upcoming visit comes amidst political tensions, with a potential 2024 rematch against former President Donald Trump. Critics, including U.S. Sen. JD Vance, have accused Biden of neglecting the community’s needs.
Back in September, Biden issued an Executive Order directing FEMA to appoint a Disaster Recovery Coordinator for long-term recovery efforts. Notable officials, such as EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have visited the accident site, emphasizing the administration’s commitment to addressing the aftermath.
Buttigieg highlighted ongoing efforts related to rail safety, noting that the Federal Railroad Administration had inspected extensive tracks. However, he stressed the need for Congress to pass crucial rail safety legislation.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, has been a frequent visitor to the community, advocating for comprehensive cleanup, continuous monitoring, and health screenings. He emphasized the ongoing fight to secure necessary resources for the affected community.
The White House emphasized its prompt response to the derailment, with first responders from the EPA and transportation department swiftly containing the damage. Norfolk Southern is under federal order to cover cleanup costs, and legal action under the Clean Water Act is underway.
Biden has urged Congress to pass the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act, co-introduced by Senators Brown and Vance. The legislation aims to enhance safety measures for trains carrying hazardous materials and ensure accountability for preventing similar incidents in the future.
Despite challenges, Brown remains committed to the legislation, highlighting the industry’s responsibility to prioritize safety over profits. He underlined the importance of holding companies accountable to prevent future disasters and safeguard the well-being of affected communities.