CNN town hall on toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio

By Elise Hammond, Tori B. Powell and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:48 a.m. ET, February 23, 2023
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11:34 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Governor says he is looking at ways to help small businesses — but there's no concrete answer yet

DJ Yokley speaks during a town hall on the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, in
DJ Yokley speaks during a town hall on the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, in (CNN)

Ohio's governor said he is working with federal officials to see what assistance they can provide to help small businesses in East Palestine, Ohio, recover after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the town.

DJ Yokley, a small business owner in East Palestine, Ohio, pressed Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on the issue saying businesses were "affected overnight."

Yokley, who is the founder and CEO of Your Sports Network, told the governor that businesses need a plan to "be open at full capacity."

DeWine said he talked to President Joe Biden about what to do to assist small businesses, but there wasn't a concrete solution.

"I'm not sure what we can do, but we're certainly going to look at that and see if there is anything, certainly, that we can do," he said, adding that it is a "tough time" for the community.
"Probably the most important thing we can do is get the clean up done as fast as we can," DeWine said. He said he hopes this gives residents more confidence.

"It's not going to happen overnight," DeWine said.

Yokley responded to DeWine saying he understands the cleanup will not be a quick turnaround.

"We understand it's not going to happen overnight. Our businesses were built overnight, but they were affected overnight, sir," Yokley said. "I think the biggest thing is there's a lot of people in the town — business owners as well — that need either to get back in the game or get out of town. I would love to stay in my town, but obviously we need to be able to be open at full capacity."
10:18 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Ohio governor vows to convey the best factual information to residents

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he will tell the residents of East Palestine "the best information" regarding the incident in an attempt to alleviate their skepticism.

"Sometimes we don't know all the information," he said. "Sometimes we get facts that maybe are wrong – but there's no way in the world I'm going to convey to you or to any other citizen a fact that I think is wrong."
9:48 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

DeWine says he would stay in East Palestine overnight after being pressed by a resident

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would stay in East Palestine, Ohio, overnight until the clean up is done.

Resident Ben Ratner pressed the governor about having been to the site of the toxic train derailment for only a few hours at a time, DeWine was insistent he felt it was safe to stay in the area overnight.

Many people who live in the area have been anxious about returning to their homes and the potential long-term effects on the air and water, though experts have said assessments have come back normal so far.

Here's how the exchange played out:

Ratner: "Would you stay in East Palestine?"
DeWine: "Yes."
Ratner: "Until the clean up is done, you'll stay with us, within the 1 mile?"
DeWine: "Yes. Yes, I have been there three times."
Ratner: "For a few hours. Will you stay overnight for a period of time?"
DeWine: "Yeah."
Ratner: "OK. Hopefully we hold you to that."
9:42 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

East Palestine teacher says she and her son are experiencing health issues after returning home

Courtney Newman speaks during a town hall on the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio on February 22.
Courtney Newman speaks during a town hall on the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio on February 22. (CNN)

Courtney Newman, a mother and teacher in East Palestine, Ohio, said she has been having some health issues after returning to her home after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed her house.

She said she lives a street away from the crash site. Her family was evacuated, but once that order was lifted and she came back to her house, she noticed that her son had been getting bloody noses every day. Newman said she was also seeing rashes on herself.

"I took him to the pediatrician on Friday. I was told they had no guidance from the CDC, the Health Department — there was nothing they could do," she said.

Newman said doctors told her they were "in the dark as much as you are."

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff acknowledged that dealing with potential toxic exposures “may not be in the wheelhouse” of many physicians.

He said if anyone feels like they are not able to get the evaluation they feel they need, the state is making additional resources available. Patients can ask their doctor to call the county Health Department to get connected to toxicologists who can provide expert advice, according to Vanderhoff.

The Health Department also set up a clinic to help residents who may not have a doctor or just need additional support, he said.

FOR CONTEXT: CNN is sharing the stories of Ohio residents who tell us their health has been impacted by the Norfolk Southern train derailment. From a medical perspective, definitively linking chemicals to health effects – such as a rash, headache or nausea – is challenging. In some cases, it could take years to establish a definitive connection, or it turn out that one does not exist.

10:53 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Resident tells Ohio officials she doesn't know who's telling the truth and does not trust authorities

Mike DeWine speaks during a town hall on Wednesday, February 22.
Mike DeWine speaks during a town hall on Wednesday, February 22. (CNN)

Nene Stewart, an East Palestine resident, is relying on water bottles because she still is unsure about the safety of her home's water.

"I'm not trusting what they are saying," Stewart told Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Wednesday evening. "So, I don't know who is telling the truth."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, municipal water sample results in the city have shown "no water quality concerns."

DeWine told Stewart that "we've been very careful not to tell anybody it's OK until we have evidence that it is okay."

He said officials advised residents not to use village water or water from an individually-owned well.

"We think it's OK," he said. "But we are not going to know until we test that."
"Look, there's still cleanup to do," he added. "There's still many things to do, so we're not telling you everything is perfect."
9:22 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Officials and experts plan to stay in East Palestine until clean-up is finished, governor says

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine assured residents of East Palestine, Ohio, that state officials and other experts intend to stay in the town until the toxic chemicals from a train derailment earlier this month are cleaned up.

"There's a concern you will be left on your own," DeWine said in response to a question about what the future holds for East Palestine, saying some people are anxious that experts will leave when national attention on the issue fades.
"We're gonna stay in there ... and do what needs to be done," he added.

The governor said he is making a commitment to those who live there and that officials are going to do "everything we can so that you have a great future and your children have a great future."

9:06 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Ohio train derailment could prompt bipartisan agreement among lawmakers on rail regulations

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez, Pete Muntean and Aileen Graef

Work crews and contractors remove and dispose of wreckage from a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, US, on Monday, February 20.
Work crews and contractors remove and dispose of wreckage from a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, US, on Monday, February 20. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A fiery train wreck that released toxic materials in an Ohio town is raising new questions in the halls of the nation’s capital over the regulation of the rail industry and if stricter measures could have prevented the disaster.

News of the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio – and its potentially harmful effects on the environment and health of local residents – has propelled both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to press the Biden administration on whether there’s enough oversight to keep rail workers and communities near railroads safe. And the supervising agency broadly responsible for regulating rail safety, the Department of Transportation, is calling on Congress to make it easier to institute safety reforms.

This rare, general bipartisan agreement about taking action in the wake of the derailment follows years of Republicans generally supporting deregulation of the rail industry, including with the broad rollback of transportation rules during the Trump administration.

Experts point out several areas of opportunity to enhance rail safety and hold rail companies further accountable: updating trains’ braking systems, shortening the lengths of freight trains, further separating cars with hazardous material, requiring more crew members to be on board and increasing penalties.

Many of these proposals, experts say, have been around for decades, and have oftentimes been diminished or entirely eliminated after rail lobbying efforts. Data compiled by the nonprofit OpenSecrets show that Norfolk Southern, the company involved in the Ohio derailment, spent $1.8 million on federal lobbying last year.

Bipartisan efforts in Congress: Congressional committees are set to review the environmental and safety impacts of the East Palestine derailment. Although efforts to enhance regulatory oversight of the rail industry have generally broken along party lines, some Republicans and Democrats appear to be moving in the same direction.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, scheduled a bipartisan briefing for members of the committee last week.

Read more here

9:03 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

NOW: CNN's town hall on Ohio toxic train disaster has started

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train is seen on fire in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4.
Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train is seen on fire in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The CEO of Norfolk Southern, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine are participating in tonight's CNN town hall.

For weeks, residents have reported a variety of health problems since the Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in early February, spewing black clouds of smoke over the community of about 5,000 people in eastern Ohio.

To help prevent a deadly explosion of vinyl chloride, crews released the toxic chemical into a trench and burned it off.

Earlier on Wednesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan threatened expensive consequences if Norfolk Southern fails to fully clean up its toxic train wreck and pay for the fallout in East Palestine.

While the EPA says testing shows the air and municipal water are safe, Regan said those with symptoms they believe might be linked to the wreck should “seek medical attention.”

Those residents should “ensure that the state and local health agencies understand those experiences because as we force Norfolk Southern to take full accountability for what they’ve done, Norfolk Southern will pay for everything,” Regan said.

CNN's Nouran Salahieh, Holly Yan and Claire Colbert contributed reporting to this post.

8:55 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

Senate hearing on derailment and EPA response will take place in early March, sources tell CNN

From Ella Nilsen

A Senate hearing on the toxic train derailment and cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio, is expected to be held in early March, two Senate sources familiar with the plan told CNN. 

In addition to health and safety concerns, the hearing is expected to focus on the timeline of state and federal Environmental Protection Agency response to the incident, one source told CNN.

Last week, Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia announced they would hold a hearing on the derailment without setting a date. Carper, a Democrat, is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Capito, a Republican, is a ranking member of the committee.

Carper and Capito said in a statement the hearing would “examine the local, state and federal response in the immediate aftermath of the train derailment and the ongoing efforts to clean up toxic chemicals in the surrounding environment.”