East Palestine, Ohio is riddled with confusion. Two weeks after the derailment of a train carrying toxic cargo, the city's residents are wondering if the water is safe to drink and if the air quality is good.
"It's pretty dramatic right now. The whole town's in an uproar," said James Figley, who lives a short distance from the crash site. The chemical odor lingers in the air and doubts about the water's drinkability remain after thousands of dead fish were found in nearby streams.
This Wednesday, hundreds of East Palestine residents held an extraordinary meeting in search of answers to their uncertain situation. Upon leaving the meeting, several neighbors, such as Lenny Galvan, approached journalists to convey their concern and distrust.
Is it OK to still be here? Are my kids safe? Are the people safe? Is the future of this community safe? We all know the severity of that question, and what’s at stake. Some people think they are downplaying; some people don’t think so – let’s find out.
Norfolk Southern, the operating company of the derailed train, was invited to the assembly and declined to show up, which caused anger from some of the neighbors.
"Where is Pete Buttigieg?"
During the meeting, tension and anger was expressed regarding the secretary of transportation. "Where is Pete Buttigieg, where is he now?" asked one resident. "I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine. Yesterday was the first time I heard anything from the White House," responded Trent Conaway, mayor of East Palestine.
This Tuesday, Buttigieg was the first member of Joe Biden's cabinet to mention the derailment. He did so after eleven days had already passed since the accident, which surely falls within the scope of his authority. His words provoked numerous criticisms on social media:
This is the state of the Biden administration: Blame Trump for something that happened exclusively under their watch.
Pete Buttigieg is a complete embarrassment and would have been fired months ago if he performed this poorly in the private sector. https://t.co/yRBsDF8Q9q
— Dan K. Eberhart (@DanKEberhart) February 15, 2023
This is an absolutely insane thing to tweet https://t.co/ovMFB4t13Y
— Kenjac (@JackKennedy) February 15, 2023
These criticisms come after Buttigieg placed more emphasis on rail safety legislation than on the derailment itself and the safety and wellbeing of those affected.
"We are holding Norfolk Southern accountable"
Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), blamed Norfolk Southern for the disaster: "I want to be clear: we are holding Norfolk Southern accountable.
I want to be clear: we are holding Norfolk Southern accountable.
On February 10, EPA issued a letter to Norfolk Southern to document the release of hazardous contaminants. It also outlines cleanup actions at the site and our authority under the law to hold them accountable. pic.twitter.com/acqfq7tdvS
— Michael Regan, U.S. EPA (@EPAMichaelRegan) February 15, 2023
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said they continue to work to keep air and water quality as well as the safety of East Palestine residents under control:
I know you also have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right. ... We are here and will stay here for as long as it takes.
CEO Alan Shaw’s letter to the East Palestine community: “I know you have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right...We are here and will stay here for as long as it takes.” pic.twitter.com/DKX0qxbGYk
— Norfolk Southern (@nscorp) February 16, 2023
In the latest update, the EPA reported that it detected no trace of the chemical compounds during its latest inspections:
As of last night, we have screened 459 homes and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride have been identified. We continue to lead 24/7 community air monitoring.
Here is the latest update from EPA's efforts on-the-ground in East Palestine, Ohio:
▪️ As of last night, we have screened 459 homes and no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride have been identified.
▪️ We continue to lead 24/7 community air monitoring.
— EPA Great Lakes (@EPAGreatLakes) February 15, 2023
Doubts about who authorized the burning of the chemicals
There are doubts as to why it took three days to authorize the burning of the dumped chemicals. In an interview on Steve Bannon's War Room podcast, the Star News Network's Editor-in-Chief Michael Patrick Leahy noted that it was Ohio Governor Mike DeWine who was responsible for issuing the order rather than the EPA:
They [the EPA] confirmed that there was an on-scene coordinator there. We don't know exactly the days that on-scene coordinator was. We asked them, "Did the on-scene coordinator order the controlled burn on Feb. 6th? And, did that on-scene coordinator have the legal authority to do it?" No response. They said, "We don't know. We'll have to get back to you on that."
We reached out to the governor’s office and said, "By what legal authority did you order the controlled burn on Feb. 6th?" Now, he framed that as a "we," but the "we" was Governor DeWine, Governor Shapiro and unnamed federal agencies. It was DeWine who ordered the controlled burn.