Local activists in East Palestine, Ohio claimed on Monday that their activism has persuaded Norfolk Southern to accept a restricted relocation plan for some residents impacted by the train derailment last month. However, they added that they have no intention of abandoning their demand for justice for the thousands of residents in the area who are struggling as a result of the accident.
The company’s proposal to offer financial help to residents who live within a one-mile radius of the accident site “is not enough,” said River Valley Organizing (RVO), which last week produced a list of five requests for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding area.
RVO described the proposal as a “win,” but pointed out that people can only move temporarily and that the disaster “has had a far-reaching impact.”
“We’re going to keep pushing until the community gets the help it is owed. We need to stop letting Norfolk Southern put their profits ahead of the people of our community,” RVO said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which late last month ordered Norfolk Southern to shoulder all financial obligations for cleaning up contamination from vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic chemical the derailed train was carrying, acknowledged Monday that residents have complained of lingering odors in the town as the company continues to remove thousands of tons of contaminated soil.
“At EPA’s request, Norfolk Southern has agreed to provide additional financial assistance to residents of the East Palestine area, including the portions of Pennsylvania within a mile of the derailment site. This assistance may include temporary lodging, travel, food, clothing, and other necessities,” the EPA said.
The EPA informed RVO and other local residents that the company started removing soil beneath the train tracks on Saturday and that it has started mailing notices to those who the relocation plan applies to.
Residents will be able to pay for their relocation using a prepaid debit card supported by Norfolk Southern and can also ask a company contracted by the rail operator to clean the inside and outside of their homes.
While the company and other officials have downplayed the threat the derailment provides to local residents by claiming that so far there have been no serious findings in water and air testing, a source told The Ohio Star last month that forestry workers have found that animals are dying at alarming rates in Ohio’s parks.
There have also been a growing number of reports of health concerns from residents following the derailment. Some residents last month say medical professionals have diagnosed them with bronchitis, lung issues, and rashes that doctors and nurses suspect link to the chemical exposure.
Out of 100 persons who live more than five miles from the accident site, more than two dozen have reported having bodily complaints, according to a survey conducted last week by United for East Palestine another grassroots organization.
“Directly affected people live outside of this radius. Do more, do better,” RVO said.
RVO’s list of demands includes relocation services, independent environmental testing, ongoing medical monitoring, and safe disposal of toxic waste.
“While we are happy our community demands are being reviewed, this is simply not enough. There are people who are farther from the site, such as Negley residents, who have wells and homes that were directly impacted by this disaster. Norfolk Southern is a 51+ billion dollar corporation. Corporate greed should not come above people’s right to a clean place to live,” RVO said.
The relocation plan was made public at the same time that Norfolk Southern unveiled a “six-point plan to improve the safety of its operations,” which included strengthening its systems to identify overheated wheel bearings, which the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report likely contributed to the derailment, and fostering “a strong safety culture.”
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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]