EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – U.S. EPA administrator Michael Regan delivered remarks in East Palestine on Thursday.
Regan began by thanking first responders for their work during and after the train derailment. He went on to say that the EPA will continue to have “boots on the ground” throughout the cleanup process.
“We hear you. We see you. We will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “All families need to know that they are safe. All families deserve access to clean air and safe drinking water.”
The EPA said 500 home air tests have been conducted and all air monitoring at this time has revealed no quality issues from the derailment. Reagan said they are awaiting ongoing surface and groundwater testing results that are being conducted by the Ohio EPA.
His visit included going into Kristina Ferguson’s house and watching an air quality test being done. She’s still evacuated until learning more about the air and water quality.
“Their experts have to vouch for themselves. It’s up to the EPA to convince these people that they’re giving them the accurate information when they said their air is clean and their water is clean,” said Congressman Bill Johnson.
He said private wells can be tested and that bottled water will be provided to those well owners until they get results. A re-entry plan for residents with wells is under development.
“In coordination with the state, we will be here as long as it takes to ensure the health and safety of this community,” Regan said. “We are going to get through this together and we’re not going anywhere until we do.”
When asked if he would let his children bathe in or drink the water in East Palestine, Regan said he trusts the science.
“What I would say is if those homes had been tested by the state and given a clean bill of health, yes, as a father, I trust the science,” Regan said. “I trust the methodology that the state is using, and as a parent, I would. But if those homes haven’t been tested or on private well water, I would advise that they get those homes tested and continue as Governor DeWine and the state health department have recommended using bottled water until those homes get tested.”
Regan is encouraging every family in the community to reach out to the state or EPA to get their home air quality and water tested.
“We have the resources to do it. We want to do it, and we want people to feel safe and secure in their own homes,” Regan said.
Ohio EPA director Ann Vogel said the department is committed to taking down barriers to residents getting help.
“Gov. DeWine has talked to President Biden and has requested assistance from the CDC,” Vogel said.
She reiterated that municipal water is safe to drink and that they are working to get contaminated soil off of the ground, and they will be working on it “as long as it takes.”
During a question and answer session, Johnson said that Congress is looking at how a designation of a high-hazard rail car is determined and the criteria for that. He said that he is hoping that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visits East Palestine and offers some guidance.
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced Thursday that the state will conduct independent water sampling.
DEP is assisting concerned public water suppliers in evaluating their source water at the Beaver Falls Municipal Authority’s surface water intake on the Beaver River, located 11 miles from the derailment site.
The closest Community Public Water Supply is PA American Ellwood City, which is 10.5 miles from the site. DEP is also investigating a small public water supply that is located along the Little Beaver River that utilizes spring sources.
“My Administration is taking steps to independently verify the safety of Pennsylvanians’ water and will continue to do so in the months to come,” Shapiro said. “Our independent testing will ensure the data we are receiving is accurate and timely so we can partner effectively with local communities to provide the information Pennsylvanians need and deserve.”
DEP will be taking independent samples from Norfolk Southern sampling sites for examination by the DEP Bureau of Laboratories. DEP will also be taking independent water samples in Pennsylvania within a 2-mile radius of the derailment site. Samples will be taken monthly to watch for any long-term impacts.
U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; JD Vance, R-Ohio; Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania and John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania have joined together and sent a letter to Regan expressing their concerns about the derailment and the controlled release of vinyl chloride.
Everyone has called this derailment a disaster and finding the answers to certain questions is also difficult.
“There’s a lack of trust. There’s a lack of trust of the EPA, of government — we know that. There’s also a lack of trust in Norfolk Southern. I’m here in part today to try to bridge that and begin to deliver for this community,” Brown said.
All of the politicians went to the crash site and saw the burnout location too. Work continues to get rid of all the chemicals, from the ground and the water. Work is being done, everyone just wishes it could be faster.
“We’re going to see progress every single day but like the administrator said, you know, we’re going to stay here until it’s done,” Johnson said.
“We’re going to look at every aspect that needs to be tweaked so that we can be sure nothing like this ever happens again,” Regan said.
There were many more promises of holding Norfolk Southern accountable.
There were also some cautions and warnings for people who may be getting offers of money, to be very careful before signing any documents when accepting that money and to be sure you’re not giving up legal rights for damages.