WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBN) – Holding his first hearing as chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on last month’s toxic train derailment, Valley Congressman Bill Johnson’s goal was simple.
He said he wanted to get answers for the “still-suffering” residents of East Palestine.
Johnson called Columbiana County’s Health Commissioner, as well as state and federal environmental officials, to discuss the cleanup during a hearing in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Anne Vogel used a map to show lawmakers the wreck happened a mile and a half from the village’s local wells.
“The derailment would not have affected the municipal water source, and we knew that very quickly after the derailment,” Vogel said.
But lawmakers say they continue to hear concerns about conflicting messages residents are getting about the safety of their air, water and soil.
“As we speak, there is a many-tons of toxic dirt pile still sitting there, very slowly being trucked out, because the proper legal certified disposal process was improperly turned into a political football,” Johnson said.
“Based on the data we have, we’ve seen no sustained, elevated levels of any compound that would have health concerns,” U.S. EPA Regional Director Debra Shore said.
Shore said air testing and indoor screenings have happened and that they are requiring Norfolk Southern to expand its testing methods. Approximately 600 homes have been tested thus far.
“If we do find anything, we’ll know it. We’ll know before it’s a public health concern, and we’ll be able to address it accordingly,” Vogel added.
If Norfolk Southern does not follow through with EPA orders, Shore said that punitive damages will occur at three times the original value.
While Columbiana County Health Commissioner Wes Vins said most people going to the local clinic complain of headaches and anxiety, they also worry about getting sick years from now.
“Certainly cancer is first and foremost, because of much of the information the residents see online and hear, as well as reproductive concerns, growth concerns,” he said.
Vins said they are working with East Liverpool City Hospital to provide a clinic for East Palestine residents at the First Church of Christ.
While lawmakers were disappointed no one from Norfolk Southern was in attendance, EPA directors say they’re committed.
“EPA will be there as long as it takes,” Shore said.
Check back here for updates on this developing story.