WASHINGTON D.C. (WKBN)- According to a press release, the Biden-Harris administration is providing federal resources in the wake of the East Palestine train derailment.
In response to Governor DeWine’s and the Ohio congressional delegation’s request on February 16 for additional federal public health support, the release states the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced they are deploying a team of medical personnel and toxicologists to conduct public health testing and assessments.
The report says that the group will support Federal, state and local officials already on the ground to evaluate individuals who were exposed or potentially exposed to chemicals and help ensure timely communications to the public.
The White House explained that environmental agencies are being tasked with the following:
- Monitoring Air Quality. The EPA is continuously monitoring air quality using state-of-art equipment. The EPA has also deployed mobile detection equipment and stationary equipment for detection of a wide range of compounds, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phosgene and hydrogen chloride.
- Screening Homes for Contaminants. The EPA has assisted with the indoor air monitoring of 500 homes under a voluntary screening program offered to residents, and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified above levels of concern. EPA is continuing to offer screening to residents within the evacuation zone.
- Securing Norfolk Southern Commitment to Cover Clean Up Costs. On February 10, the EPA issued a letter to Norfolk Southern requiring the railroad to document the release of hazardous contaminants. The letter also outlines cleanup actions at the site and EPA’s authority under the law to hold them accountable.
- Holding Norfolk Southern Accountable for Clean Up. The EPA is coordinating the oversight of Norfolk Southern’s soil remediation of the derailment site. The remediation includes testing of the soils within and immediately surrounding the impacted areas. Results of the testing are evaluated by EPA and OH EPA to determine a strategy to ensure the site is cleaned up to meet federal and state regulations.
- Helping Ensure Water is Safe to Drink. EPA is assisting state and local agencies to test surface and ground water to ensure drinking water is safe. This includes surface water testing to monitor downstream impacts on the Ohio River.
The press release states that the NTSB is leading the investigation into the cause of the derailment with the Department of Transportation personnel supporting. Once the investigation is finished, the Federal Government will use all available and appropriate authorities to further ensure accountability and improve rail safety. Further actions include:
- Investigating the Cause of the Derailment. The National Transportation Safety Board has been on site since within hours of the derailment to determine what caused the derailment. NTSB plans to submit preliminary findings report within weeks, and a final report that will lay out what caused the derailment. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within DOT are also on site supporting the NTSB’s investigation.
- Ensuring Compliance with Rail Safety Regulations. FRA is working to determine Norfolk Southern’s compliance with rail safety regulations. When the DOT gets the results from the NTSB investigation about the cause of the derailment, as well as the analysis from the FRA on rail safety compliance, the DOT will take actions as needed that ensure accountability and improve safety.
- Creating a safer rail system. DOT is working on numerous fronts to improve rail safety, including managing over $4 billion in discretionary grant programs designed to improve rail safety and eliminate at-grade rail crossings. DOT also provides training and resources for local first responders who deal with hazardous materials incidents. DOT is also working on rulemakings to improve rail safety including proposing a rule that would require a minimum of a two-person train crew size for safety reasons, a major priority for rail workers. DOT conducts research to improve the design of rail cars that carry hazardous materials. DOT is also developing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will require railroads to provide real-time information on the contents of tank cars to authorized emergency response officials responding to or investigating an incident involving the transportation of hazardous materials by rail.
In addition to this, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), will send a team to interview people in the derailment area and conduct an Assessment of Chemical Exposure investigation.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also mounting support.
“FEMA and the State of Ohio have been in constant contact regarding emergency operations in East Palestine,” reads a Friday statement from DeWine and FEMA’s Regional Administrator Thomas Sivak.
“U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA have been working together since day one. [Saturday], FEMA will supplement federal efforts by deploying a Senior Response Official along with a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long-term recovery needs.”
The EPA has secured a commitment from Norfolk Southern to pay for all cleanup costs, according to the White House.