State and federal officials held a news conference Thursday in East Palestine, Ohio, as residents expressed frustration about the response to a train carrying potentially deadly materials that derailed in their hometown nearly two weeks ago.
Michael S. Regan, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, aimed to reassure residents authorities are focused on keeping them safe.
Regan arrived in East Palestine Thursday morning to assess the ongoing response to the February 3 train derailment and the controlled explosion of five railroad cars carrying the chemical vinyl chloride.
“This incident has understandably shaken this community to its core," Regan said. "The community has questions and they deserve answers. I want the community to know that we hear you, we see you, and that we will get to the bottom of this."
The massive aftermath of the derailment, including a blaze that lasted for days, led to the evacuation of many residents. The evacuation order was lifted on February 8 after air and water samples led officials to deem the area safe.
“Since the fire went out, EPA air monitoring has not detected any levels of health concern in the community that are attributed to the train derailment,” Regan said. “EPA has assisted with the screening of more than 480 homes under the voluntary screening program offered to residents. And no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified. And we’re continuing to make those screenings available to any resident that wants to have their indoor air tested.”
Regan said the agency has full authority to use its enforcement capabilities over the crisis and it will stay there "as long as it takes" to ensure the community's safety.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said he’s been in contact with the White House, the EPA, NTSB, CDC and the federal rail authority over the management of cleanup and testing. He pledged to hold the rail company Norfolk Southern accountable for everything from the cost of testing to moving expenses.
Norfolk Southern has expanded its $1,000 payment beyond residents who were within a mile of the evacuation zone and will now pay each resident in the entire 44413 zip code, a spokesman for the company told CNN on Wednesday.
Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson urged residents to contact his office if they need to be connected with authorities or if they are having issues getting their questions answered.
“No community should have to go through something like this," he said. "But you need to know that you’re not alone."