(WKBN) – East Palestine mom Misti Allison didn’t hold back while speaking in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday.
“My seven-year-old son has asked me if he’s going to die from living in his own home. What do I tell him?” she asked.
It was the first time a panel of U.S. senators heard from anyone directly affected by last month’s train derailment in East Palestine and the fire that occurred afterward. Allison told them that the weeks that followed have brought lots of confusion.
“The EPA tells us the data is fine while independent researchers say that there are high levels of carcinogens all around us. Who do we trust?” she asked.
Besides enduring the derailment and its aftermath, Allison lost her mother to cancer recently. In pushing for tougher rail safety laws, she invoked one of her mom’s favorite sayings.
“Let’s find a way, not another excuse,” she said.
Governor Mike DeWine joined the hearing remotely from East Palestine High School, telling the panel that a health clinic that opened following the derailment will be made permanent, thanks to help from East Liverpool City Hospital.
“It’s gonna be a full-service clinic that will provide comprehensive care and treatment,” he said. “Anybody can walk in. Anyone can be treated.”
The location, which is still being finalized, will be operated by the hospital.
The new clinic will offer the same services as the current emergency clinic, but will also provide traditional comprehensive primary care, including treatment, prescriptions, lab testing and consultation with specialists where appropriate. The clinic is a chance for residents to discuss health concerns and receive a health assessment.
The state will be providing funding to ensure the clinic remains available and free for those without insurance coverage.
Since opening the clinic with the Columbiana County Health District, more than 295 residents have received care, including mental health services.
Also testifying during Wednesday’s hearing was Western Reserve Joint Fire District Chief David Comstock, whose department was one of the dozens responding the night of the wreck. He told the panel that firefighters were hampered by not knowing what they were up against.
“Keep in mind, it was at night. You had burning cars and some, and some of the placards had burned off,” he said.
head of the National Transportation Safety Board agreed, saying her agency wants to see more federal help for first responders to have the proper equipment and training before the next disaster happens.
Also speaking at Wednesday’s hearing were U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, as well as Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.
At one point, the questioning got a little heated as Shaw tried to say it was his responsibility to improve safety for the entire industry.
“OK, that sounds like a lobbyist’s response of taking responsibility. It’s like before executives come in here, they go to charm school and they’re told to take responsibility without taking responsibility,” said Vermont Sen. Peter Welch.
Although Shaw did say he supports certain aspects of the railroad safety bill proposed by Ohio’s two senators, he fell short of endorsing the entire measure.
Sen. Vance also had some harsh words for the railroad industry officials who have complained the Railroad Safety Act he co-sponsored represents too much “big government” interference with how they operate.
“My encouragement to the rail industry is: be a constructive partner here. If you have legitimate gripes, we’ll absolutely hear them, but if you’re pushing back against any safety enhancements for an industry that just did to East Palestine what it did, then that is not gonna be something that works with Senate Republicans, or I think Senate Democrats,” he said.
Vance said he does expect the measure that he and Sherrod Brown introduced will eventually pass, but it will take time.