EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WJW) — While attention was drawn to former U.S. President Donald Trump during his visit to East Palestine Wednesday, residents behind the scenes just want to get back to the normalcy of their quiet, small Ohio town.
Those who actually live here worry daily that their homes will become worthless, that their health is being threatened and while they welcome whatever help they can get from the spotlight that has been shined on their community, they do not want the environmental catastrophe to become a political sideshow.
On Wednesday, earth movers continued to dig up contaminated soil at the site of the fiery Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train.
Downstreal workers continue to try and clean up the chemicals that have been washed into area creeks.
Wednesday’s rain made more of the chemicals in the water rise to the top of the swollen creeks, showing as a oily sheen on the water.
The demands made of Norfolk Southern by the EPA on Tuesday are welcomed by residents here.
The rail company countered with a statement that reads:
“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.”
On Wednesday, representatives of Norfolk Southern were still at the Abundant Life Church in nearby New Waterford, where the railroad established a family assistance center soon after the derailment.
Dozens of East Palestine residents continue to stream in with their receipts in hand to be re-imbursed for expenses related to the incident.
Many are relying on the railroad to keep their word, although they remain cautiously skeptical and emotional about the cards they have been dealt.
“I won’t even drink our water right now and I have a cat, She likes getting drinks out of the water fountain and I wont let her do it … I’m hunting down bottle water,” said East Palestine resident Rebecca Dugan.
“Hopefully they get it cleaned up, if they don’t get it cleaned up, then they might as well get it as a ghost town,” said Rusty Hargraves.
“I just want things to go back to normal,” said Crystal Cogley.
The former president’s visit to East Palestine preceded an expected visit by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig on Thursday and a town hall Thursday evening, which environmental activist Erin Brockovich is expected to attend.
Mayor Trent Conaway on Tuesday said he welcomes anyone who wants to come to East Palestine and offer help, but he does not want the community to become a “political pawn.”
“We dont want to be a sound bite or a news bite we just want to go back to living our lives the way that they were,” said Conway.
Welcome or not, the community is now very much a magnet for dignitaries and in the international spotlight
While the railroad, the U.S. and Ohio EPA, the NTSB and other state and federal agencies continue to test for contaminates and try to remove the toxic chemicals, many fear they will remain in the streams and soil here for years.