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Residents impacted by the disastrous East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment in February are continuing to criticize the government’s handling of the toxic fallout stemming from the train wreck.
East Palestine locals created a group earlier this month called the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment Community, demanding that Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) declare an emergency over the derailment. With the July 3 deadline coming up for DeWine to make a move, many residents are still skeptical of the government’s response.
“We want transparency and we want the freedom to choose, and we can’t be letting these corporations decide the fate of our lives anymore,” Hilary Flint, who helped form the Unity Council, told The Center Square.
Some of the train cars, operated by Norfolk Southern, were carrying vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, and formed massive plumes of black smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania after it was released via controlled burn.
The group blasted DeWine in its petition for the governor to declare the aftermath of the 53-car train wreck an emergency.
“To make matters worse, Governor DeWine has given control of the clean-up to Norfolk Southern – the same company responsible for the disaster – regarding testing and the financial aid process for impacted people and businesses. It’s not only a conflict of interest, it’s an insult to those affected, and Norfolk has left thousands without proper care,” the emergency petition said.
The petition says that many in the East Palestine community believe that they are in danger of being forgotten, and they don’t trust the government’s response to the disaster.
“They’ve created such an environment of distrust with how they handled this in the beginning and continue to — and when I say ‘they,’ I mean Norfolk Southern, the government, any government agencies like the EPA,” Flint said.
DeWine’s press secretary, Dan Tierney, said that the emergency declaration would not be approved because Norfolk Southern was covering the financial burden of the derailment.
“The FEMA program is designed as, essentially, an insurer of last resort for property damage,” Tierney told The Center Square. “Very early on, if we were hearing things where somebody wasn’t getting reimbursed for (a) hotel or per-diem food, we’d bring it to Norfolk Southern’s attention and they’d be paying for it.”
Flint has not been satisfied with the government’s handling, saying that not enough tests were being conducted on homes impacted by the accident.
“They can’t say there’s not property damage because they have not even gone into people’s homes to test for everything,” Flint said. “They’re testing for a very specific few chemicals when this was many chemicals.”