EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan had some strong words for Norfolk Southern on Tuesday.
Speaking in East Palestine, Regan said he’s not going to let Norfolk Southern off of the hook for the cleanup following a train derailment that left a mess in the village.
Regan said using its legal authority, the EPA is ordering Norfolk Southern to finish cleaning up the area. That includes removing contaminated soil and water and transporting them to the proper location.
That includes debris in waterways and soil at the crash site, he said.
“We’re not going to leave this community behind. We’re not going to leave this community to handle the aftermath alone. We are with you,” he said.
Regan was joined by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and Congressman Bill Johnson during the local visit.
Regan said Norfolk Southern will also reimburse the EPA for cleanup at area homes and businesses within the radius of the crash site, which will be conducted by the EPA and its contractors.
Norfolk Southern will be required to complete a work plan, which will be reviewed and approved by the EPA.
If Norfolk Southern fails to complete any of these requirements, Regan said the EPA will complete them and then charge the company triple that cost.
“Folks, I know this order can’t undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living with, but it will begin to deliver much-needed justice for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused,” Regan said. “I want the community to know that we heard you, and we need to keep hearing from you.”
“There’s a long road ahead, but you will not have to walk that road alone. We’re going to take this journey to justice together.”
The EPA administrator and other elected leaders visited two East Palestine homes on Tuesday. At one, they all raised a glass of tap water and drank it.
The state and the EPA say the village water supply is safe to drink, but many feel far from comfortable.
The Ohio EPA showed how it completes water testing, hoping to calm fears about the water supply.
The agency says this was the second “coordinated” test since the derailment. Water samples are checked at the plant on Bacon Avenue in East Palestine, looking for anything which would make the water unsafe for eating or drinking.
After the water is analyzed, it is then sent to certified laboratories for more testing.
“Right now, we are on a minimum of a weekly schedule for this. Obviously, every day throughout the hour, we are getting information from our other efforts around, and if we start seeing detections of other compounds, we start seeing things in the creek… or in the wells that are going in, we will be reevaluating how often we’re testing,” said Amy Klei, of the Ohio EPA.
The EPA promises to continue monitoring and testing the water in East Palestine for as long as needed. The village conducts additional testing of its own.
Gov. DeWine said they will also be offering tests for private wells in the area, for those residents who want them.
The EPA’s order was signed Monday. This is the next step, and with each step of the way, the call keeps getting louder for Norfolk Southern to be accountable.
“Look, the railroad needs to pay for anything that they caused or anything that they did,” DeWine said.
Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro also spoke Tuesday, saying they were taking independent sampling in the state. Those results should be back soon. He said monitoring of the air and water in Beaver County will continue.
Shapiro criticized Norfolk Southern’s early response to the incident, saying it created confusion and unnecessary risk.
“In the face of Norfolk Southern’s arrogance and incompetence, I want you to know we are fighting back,” he said.
Following the press conference, Norfolk Southern released the following statement:
“We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we have committed to doing what’s right for the residents of East Palestine. We have been paying for the clean-up activities to date and will continue to do so.
We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives. We are investing in helping East Palestine thrive for the long-term, and we will continue to be in the community for as long as it takes.
We are going to learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve railroad safety.”
Lorie Barber contributed to this report.