Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) challenged EPA Administrator Michael Regan to drink a glass of tap water in East Palestine, Ohio, after the agency claimed the water supply was safe despite the small town’s recent Norfolk Southern train derailment and toxic chemical disaster.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the 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 carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was released from five train cars last week in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Regan visited the town on Thursday after critics accused the Biden administration of paying minimal attention to the incident. He said that his agency deployed sophisticated means of testing the air and water supply.
“We are not receiving any high levels of detection,” Regan commented. “I feel very confident that our technology is protecting public health.”
The EPA said in a statement that “test results from the village’s municipal well sampling showed no water quality concerns” and noted that staff members conducted nearly 500 home screens as of Wednesday evening. Vance, however, challenged Regan to prove his agency’s conviction.
“I think that if the EPA administrator wants to stand here and tell people that the tap water is safe,” the lawmaker asserted, “by all means, they should be willing to drink it.”
When questioned by reporters, Vance said he would personally refuse to rely upon the local water supply. “If I was living here, I would drink the bottled water for now. Better safe than sorry, especially because it’s being provided for free,” he continued. “That’s the advice I would give, and again, the residents are going to make their own decisions on this.”
The EPA also referred residents to a statement shared by the office of Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), which likewise said that tests conducted by the Ohio EPA show “no detection of contaminants in raw water from the five wells that feed into East Palestine’s municipal water system” and added that the agency is “confident that the municipal water is safe to drink.”
Residents have mentioned a lingering smell in the air, deceased wildlife and farm animals, and various health problems. One first responder said in an interview with The Daily Wire that he and his colleagues experienced “bad cough, headaches, sore throat, and diarrhea” after assisting community members impacted by the derailment.
Beyond the release of vinyl chloride, Norfolk Southern warned the EPA that a number of other volatile chemicals were present at the derailment site. One train car containing ethylene glycol monobutyl ether currently has an “unknown status,” according to Norfolk Southern, while the amount of ethylhexyl acrylate in another car is still “pending.” The EPA issued the full list of substances present at the site after residents were told they could safely return to their homes.
Vance contended that residents of East Palestine are victims of the misplaced priorities of Biden administration officials such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who did not address the train crash for more than a week after it occurred but appeared at the National Association of Counties Conference to comment on racial equity in the construction sector.