After Norfolk Southern CEO failed to appear once more at the town hall meeting and his representative told the audience that the firm “feels horrible” about the crash, East Palestine residents exploded in rage.
Residents of East Palestine were visibly upset at the town hall meeting on Thursday night as they yelled at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representative not to “lie to them” and asked, “Where’s Alan?” as railroad CEO Alan Shaw once again failed to appear in the little town.
The CEO has neglected to appear at meetings for East Palestine residents twice already. The first time was two weeks after the derailment.
Numerous locals spoke on the witness stand to share their terrible tales of children becoming ill and projectile vomiting as a result of the effects of the railway crash on February 3rd, as well as individuals who have lost everything from farm animals to property value.
Community members are still demanding for a reevaluation even after the evacuation orders were lifted a few weeks ago. East Palestine residents said that the symptoms they are experiencing and the environmental disaster they see with their own eyes are safe.
“By the grace of God, get our people out of here,” an angry attendee said.
In spite of U.S. EPA Region 5 regional administrator Debra Shore‘s claim that the agency has tested over 600 residences, a lot of nearby residents complained during the town hall meeting that they were having trouble getting someone to their homes to do chemical tests.
“The EPA Region 5’s number one priority is and always will be the health and safety in communities across the region and those that live here,” Shore said.
Shore added that the EPA is keeping an eye on the community’s 16 stations for air quality, adding that the agency hasn’t found any volatile compounds above levels that pose a health risk or link to the train incident. The audience started to jeer at the remark.
‘Don’t lie to us!’ one man yelled out.
Many locals spoke up to say that even after the evacuation order was removed, they are still unable to return.
A woman who lives a mile from the derailment said she became ill after only 30 minutes inside of her home.
“You’re telling me it’s okay for me to bring my kids into my house, when after 30 minutes I’m there I throw up, my mouth goes numb, I can’t think properly, my head pounds so hard it takes three hours from when I leave the area for it to dissipate,” she said.
According to the EPA, although they are gathering local health statistics, it will take three weeks.
Now, cleanup crew members are becoming sick as well. Migraines and nausea are becoming more common among the workers helping to clean up harmful chemicals at a train crash site.
In a letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Wednesday, Jonathan Long, a union representative for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, claimed that he had received complaints that Norfolk Southern did not provide the workers with the right personal protective equipment, such as respirators, eye protection, and protective clothes, to help clean up the debris.
He also said many employees “reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of [Norfolk Southern].”
Norfolk Southern is still under scrutiny for the incident. Next week, amid calls for updated rail safety standards, the company’s CEO is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
His company has made a public commitment to invest in East Palestine “for the long-term” and to clean up the estimated 30,000 truckloads of toxic waste left behind from the accident.
Residents of the small town say Shaw’s attendance record and his company’s plan to clean up the spill are unimpressive, despite his pledge to invest in the community.
Norfolk Southern representative Darrell Wilson said that they are ready to begin removing contaminated soil from underneath their tracks, but it’s unclear when the operation will start.
Residents, however, are still unhappy as they claim their farmland and residential areas are still contaminated.
According to Wilson, they will clean up the site, but it took so long to begin the clean-up because it took some time to “find where (the contamination) is.”
“It’s everywhere!” residents yelled back.
Norfolk Southern intends to dig up the South track first, remove the toxic soil, and then go onto the North track, where the vehicles derailed. Residents voiced concerns that if both lines aren’t cleaned up at once, the South side may become poisoned once more.
Residents have asked that trains cease operating on some tracks until the cleanup is complete, but Wilson seemed annoyed by the demand.
‘You said you wanted to dig it up, so we have a plan to do that,’ Wilson said.
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins. In a press release on Thursday, the agency said: “(The) EPA will require Norfolk Southern to conduct a background study to compare any dioxin levels around East Palestine to dioxin levels in other areas not impacted by the train derailment.”
The EPA will mandate an immediate clean-up if Norfolk Southern determines that the area has high dioxin levels.
“In response to concerns shared with me by residents, EPA will require Norfolk Southern to sample directly for dioxins under the agency’s oversight and direct the company to conduct immediate clean up if contaminants from the derailment are found at levels that jeopardize people’s health,” U.S. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Alan Shaw” by Norfolk Southern Corp. Background Photo “East Palestine, Ohio” by 636Buster. CC BY-SA 4.0.