Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals on the vehicle to decrease the risk of an explosion, which could have sent shrapnel throughout the small town. Vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
The EPA said on Tuesday that Norfolk Southern must clean contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for cleaning services that will be offered to residents and businesses, and attend public meetings to update residents on the cleanup process. The agency also threatened to “immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost” if the company fails to adequately complete enumerated cleanup actions.
“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.”
Officials from the EPA had previously secured a voluntary commitment from Norfolk Southern to cover all cleanup expenses. Beyond the release of vinyl chloride, Norfolk Southern warned the EPA that a number of other volatile chemicals, including ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and ethylhexyl acrylate, were present at the derailment site. The EPA published the full list of substances present at the site only after residents were told they could return to their homes.
Regan traveled to East Palestine last week and faced pressure from local media, as well as Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH), who challenged him to drink the water his agency says is potable. The EPA indeed said that “test results from the village’s municipal well sampling showed no water quality concerns,” while Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) announced that tests conducted by the Ohio EPA revealed “no detection of contaminants in raw water from the five wells that feed into East Palestine’s municipal water system.”
A team of Daily Wire journalists and producers who visited East Palestine nevertheless reported a lingering smell in the air, an oily chemical sheen in local creeks and rivers, and symptoms such as sore throats and headaches garnered merely by spending an extended period of time in the small rust belt community.
The statement from the EPA marks the most aggressive response to the chemical fallout from the Biden administration, which previously faced accusations of devoting minimal attention to the incident. The White House said last week that it would respond to a request for federal support by sending medical personnel and toxicologists from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I’m deeply grateful to the emergency responders, including EPA personnel, who’ve been on the ground since day one and ensured there was no loss of life as a result of this disaster,” Regan said in the statement. “As we transition from emergency response, EPA will continue to coordinate closely with our local, state, and federal partners through a whole-of-government approach to support the East Palestine community during the remediation phase. To the people of East Palestine, EPA stands with you now and for as long as it may take.”