EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up a train wreck and chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio, as federal regulators took charge of long-term recovery efforts and reassured worried residents. They will not be forgotten.
Speaking to reporters near the derailment site, Norfolk Southern’s CEO pledged to take the necessary steps to ensure the long-term health of the community and become a “safer railroad.”
The EPA used its authority under the federal Superfund Act to order Norfolk Southern to take all available steps to clean up contaminated air and water. It also said the company must reimburse the federal government for a new program to provide cleanup services to affected residents and businesses.
At a news conference in East Palestine, EPA Administrator Michael Reagan pledged that “Norfolk Southern will pay to clean up the mess they created and the trauma they caused in this community.” “I know this order will not end the nightmare that families in this town are living, but it will begin to deliver much-needed justice for the pain Norfolk Southern has caused.”
He warned that if Norfolk Southern failed to comply, the agency would do the work itself and seek treble damages from the company.
The EPA plans to release more details about the cleanup service for residents and businesses, which it said would “provide additional certainty.”
The agency said the February 3 derailment marked the end of the “emergency” phase And the beginning of a long-term solution.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw pledged to restore the site and invest in the community.
“From day one, I’m going to fix the Norfolk Southern site, we’re going to do continuous long-term air and water monitoring, we’re going to help the residents of this community recover, and we’re going to invest in the long-term health of this community. And we are going to make Norfolk Southern a safer railway,” he told reporters.
Jeff Zalick, who lives with his 100-year-old mother, blocks away from the derailment, saying he will wait until the house is cleared before going back. He said there was still a chemical smell inside, although not as bad as a week ago.
The walls need scrubbing and he wants to install air purifiers before letting his mother in again.
“I want to make sure she’s safe,” he said. “She’s ready to come home. She cries every day.”
In a tweet after the EPA announcement, President Joe Biden said the Trump administration and other elected officials were obstructing efforts to improve rail safety.
“We will continue to hold railways accountable for failing to put safety first. But first, we need to clean up the Norfolk Southern mess,” he said. “We want the affected residents to know that we have your support.”
The EPA’s move to clean up Norfolk Southern comes nearly three weeks after three dozen freight cars — 11 carrying hazardous materials — derailed near the Pennsylvania state line near the Pennsylvania state line in the smoldering wreckage.
Officials are trying to avoid uncontrolled blasts Deliberately released and burned Five train cars spewed toxic vinyl chloride, flames and black smoke into the sky. This made people question the potential health effects Although the authorities maintain, they are doing their best to protect the people.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reassured residents that people will not be left to deal with the aftermath once attention turns elsewhere.
“We understand that it’s not just today, it’s not just two weeks from now,” he said. “People have long-term concerns, and we’re going to do everything we can to stay in this.”
Already, 4,600 yards of contaminated soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water have been removed, Devine said. But he said Norfolk Southern failed to address the contaminated soil beneath its tracks before resuming freight operations. He said the company had to take the rails back and remove the soil.
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro called Norfolk Southern’s “failed management of this crisis,” saying the company chose not to participate in a unified incident command, and provided inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data.
“Norfolk Southern’s combination of corporate greed, incompetence and lack of concern for our residents is completely unacceptable,” said Shapiro, who spoke at a news conference with Reagan, Devine and other officials.
Shapiro said his administration made a criminal referral of Norfolk Southern to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. DeWine said Ohio’s attorney general has opened an investigation.
The EPA said it has tested indoor air quality in 550 homes so far, monitoring outdoor air using aircraft, mobile vans and fixed instruments.
However, Reagan said he wasn’t sure if the EPA was testing for cancer-causing dioxin, as some lawmakers and advocates have requested.
Under the so-called Superfund Act, the EPA has the authority to direct those responsible for pollution or hazardous waste to clean up. The EPA can fine the railroad up to $70,000 per day if the work isn’t completed. EPA could do the work itself if necessary and bill Norfolk Southern for three times its cost.
Separately, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a package of reforms Tuesday and called upon railway operators to take immediate steps to improve safety, such as expediting scheduled upgrades of tank cars.
Rubingham reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. AP writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.
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