The Biden administration announced Friday that it will send health professionals to East Palestine, Ohio, as the small town reels from a Norfolk Southern train derailment.
Authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the derailment and started a controlled burn of industrial chemicals present on the train to decrease the risk of an explosion. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was released from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke visible in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
The White House said in a fact sheet that they would respond to a request for federal health support from Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and the Ohio delegation to Congress by sending medical personnel and toxicologists from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “conduct public health testing.” The staffers are expected to arrive on the ground in East Palestine by Saturday.
“The team will support federal, state, and local officials already on the ground to evaluate individuals who were exposed or potentially exposed to chemicals and help ensure timely communications to the public,” the statement said. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting the people of East Palestine every step of the way.”
The White House noted that officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation were present at the site of the derailment “within hours” of the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the impetus of the derailment, which is suspected to have been caused by a malfunctioning rail car axle.
Officials from the EPA have reportedly “secured Norfolk Southern’s commitment to cover all cleanup costs.” 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 issued the full list of substances present at the site after residents were told they could safely return to their homes.
The White House statement comes one day after EPA Administrator Michael Regan traveled to East Palestine. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also visited the town.
The EPA also continues to monitor air and water quality, including possible downstream impacts throughout the Ohio River Basin, using a variety of technologies. Despite multiple state and federal agencies insisting that the air and water supplies in East Palestine were not affected by the incident, residents and first responders have noted a lingering smell in the air, an oily chemical sheen in local creeks and rivers, sudden deaths among wildlife and livestock, and worrisome health impacts such as sore throats and headaches.
Carter Andrews, who is part of a team of staff members with The Daily Wire on the ground in East Palestine, said his “eyes sting” and his “head is throbbing” after spending time in the town. “The worst part about the wreck site was the horrible smell,” he recounted. “The chemically, stinging odor was so strong my eyes started watering. It lingered all throughout town.”
Citizens have also expressed frustration with a lack of transparency from government agencies and Norfolk Southern. Though residents were promised a town hall meeting on Wednesday, officials switched the event to an informational session with local and state representatives; executives from Norfolk Southern pulled out of the event hours before its start time.