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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11:16 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

"There's a lot of fears" in East Palestine community that need answers, mayor says

Mayor Trent Conaway answers to questions during a town hall, in East Palestine, Ohio on February 22.
Mayor Trent Conaway answers to questions during a town hall, in East Palestine, Ohio on February 22. (CNN)

East Palestine, Ohio, Mayor Trent Conaway is calling for answers to ease fears in the community following the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals.

"There's a lot of fears in town," especially from people who live close to the train tracks where the crash happened, he said.

"They're justified and they need answers," Conaway said during the CNN town hall. "And we'll get those answers."

He said he is cautiously optimistic that the community will bounce back, pointing to assurances from officials and experts.

"This is going to be a very long process, and you know, eventually, hopefully it comes to an end and hopefully it goes back to the way it was, and actually better than the way it was. That's our main goal," Conaway said.
10:13 p.m. ET, February 22, 2023

EPA administrator says he understands skepticism "as a father," but points to safe air and water assessments

While he said he understands the hesitation of East Palestine, Ohio, residents to bring their families back to their homes, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said he would raise his children in the community.

"Yes, I would based on the evidence that we have," he said in response to a question from town resident DJ Yokley, who asked if Regan would feel safe raising his kids in East Palestine.

"I understand the skepticism, as a father. I'm a father first and foremost, I understand the skepticism, but what I can tell you is what the science tells us and that these readings are indicating that there are safe levels," Regan said.

Regan laid out various types of air monitoring the EPA has been doing around the site where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed. This includes an airplane, a mobile van moving in and out of the area and several air quality monitors placed "strategically all around the community."

He said his agency has tested the air quality inside more than 550 home and are working with state officials to test the water.

"What the science tells us is that we haven't had any readings that are above certain levels that would cause adverse health impacts," Regan said.
12:00 a.m. ET, February 23, 2023

EPA administrator outlines accountability plan for Norfolk Southern

Michael Regan answers to questions during a town hall on February 22.
Michael Regan answers to questions during a town hall on February 22. (CNN)

Norfolk Southern has been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to fully clean up its toxic train wreck and pay for the fallout in East Palestine, Ohio.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN Wednesday the company will take care of the incident "in a very prescribed manner on a specific timeframe."

Here's what that looks like:

  • According to special authority by the EPA, Norfolk Southern is required to provide the agency with a descriptive cleanup plan for contaminated soil and water as well as debris, Regan said.
  • The company will also reimburse the EPA for providing all East Palestine residents with an interior and exterior cleaning service of their homes and businesses.
  • Norfolk Southern representatives will also be compelled to "show up at EPA's request to public meetings and explain and talk to the residents about what they're doing during this process."
  • And should Norfolk Southern fail to meet the EPA's orders, Regan said the agency will "step in" and could charge the company up to three times the amount that the cleanup would cost.

"There are a lot of incentives built in here, in this order, to compel the company to clean up their mess," he said.

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."