EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Local, state and federal officials hosted a press conference Saturday afternoon to answer questions, particularly those dealing with the environmental and health concerns East Palestine residents have been voicing since the Feb. 3 train derailment.
The press conference included statements from East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and representatives from FEMA, the EPA, CDC, Ohio Department of Development and the Federal Railroad Association.
U.S. EPA Region 5 administrator Debra Shore announced that Norfolk Southern must pause soil remediation efforts. The railroad company had been solely responsible for the disposal of waste materials. Now, disposal sites and how contaminants are transported are subject to federal EPA review.
“EPA will ensure that all waste is disposed of in a safe and lawful manner in EPA-certified facilities to prevent further release of hazardous substances and impacts to communities,” Shore said.
She said the community deserves to have the waste removed as soon as possible.
Shore also advised that a new information hotline has been made available through the agency and can be reached at 866-361-0526. The hotline is meant to provide answers to residents’ questions about water, soil and air quality testing.
“Those answering the phones will have information to share with callers,” Shore said. “When they don’t have answers, they will provide contact information so EPA can follow up.”
Director of the Ohio EPA Anne Vogel said the department has done more work to make sure drinking is safe long-term, and there’s weekly municipal water testing to ensure that contaminants are detected before reaching city water.
The cleanup of the derailment site has now moved into the remediation phase, according to Vogel. Creeks in the area are currently being filtered and airated, and new monitoring wells have been installed to allow water quality tests to be conducted for years to come before any contaminants reach municipal water.
“We will be able for years to come to know if there are any contaminants approaching the municipal wellfield,” Vogel said.
The officials stressed that all water and air testing results have come back with negative results on contaminants. However, Shore did acknowledge that the EPA has not been actively testing for the presence of dioxins — something a few East Palestine residents have expressed concerns about.
Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development, said business owners in East Palestine with concerns or questions can reach out to the department at businesshelp@development.Ohio.gov for resources.
“I’m excited to share that residents and business owners will be able to begin the intake process for scheduling cleaning services,” Shore said.
Jill Shugart said the CDC will be at the EPA welcome center on Monday, providing resources, hotlines, information sheets and more to residents. There will also be scientists present to answer questions.
Conaway acknowledged that many residents are concerned that the derailment has become a “political chess game,” but that the departments and politicians — including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro — are working together with the state and local departments to get things back to normal safely.
The press conference followed visits from former president Donald Trump, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, environmental lawyer Erin Brokovich and others.
There will be a public meeting and open house at 6 p.m. March 2 at the high school.
Another joint press conference is scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m.