After 11 days, Buttigieg addresses toxic spill in Ohio for the first time

"From day one, our USDOT personnel have been assisting in the response," the transportation secretary said.

Eleven days after the derailment of a toxic freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, in which about 50 tank cars overturned and chemical components were released, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg assured on Twitter that the Biden administration had begun responding to the accident immediately:

From day one, our USDOT personnel have been assisting in the response to the Norfolk Southern derailment in Ohio. As NTSB conducts its investigation and EPA works to keep residents safe, our Federal Rail and Pipeline and Hazardous Material teams will continue to offer support.

Hours earlier, Buttigieg detailed that the agencies in charge of the investigation and cleanup of the toxic waste are continuing their work on the incident:

I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It’s important that families have access to useful & accurate information. USDOT has been supporting the investigation led by The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Our Federal Rail Administration and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials teams were onsite within hours of the initial incident and continue to be actively engaged.

In addition, Buttigieg stated that water and air quality continue to be monitored so that residents of East Palestine and the surrounding area can continue with their daily lives:

We will look to these investigation results & based on them, use all relevant authorities to ensure accountability and continue to support safety. In the meantime, our Federal partners at EPA are onsite and monitoring indoor and outdoor air quality to test for VOCs and other chemicals of concern. EPA has screened 291 homes and no detections were identified – and 181 homes remain.

"Historic investments" in rail safety

Pete Buttigieg assured that the Department of Transportation's efforts are focused on rail safety:

In the wake of the East Palestine derailment and its impact on hundreds of residents, we’re seeing lots of newfound or renewed (and welcome) interest in our work on rail safety. We are making historic investments on rail safety through funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, work that accelerates this year and continue in the years to come.

He further added:

In June we announced $120 million in grants to help improve railway safety. The infrastructure law created a new program that provides $3 billion dedicated to eliminating at-grade rail crossings to reduce crashes and save lives. We will announce awards for the first round of projects this summer. Our priority is to prevent transportation incidents, but when they do occur and hazardous material is involved, we want first responders to be prepared. We recently awarded $32.4 M in grants to strengthen local efforts to respond to hazmat incidents. Good regulation & effective enforcement are key to lowering the risk of rail incidents, injuries & fatalities.

Since the East Palestine derailment, two other freight trains have been involved in accidents. This Monday, a railroad ran off the tracks in Enoree, S.C. On the same day, another freight train derailed near Houston after colliding with a truck.