Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted joined local officials in East Palestine over the weekend in drinking city water from the tap, in a bid to convince residents the municipal water supply is safe following a train derailment and chemical spill.
Husted, a Republican, joined US Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, and East Palestine’s mayor, fire chief and police chief in a joint event to drink the water on camera.
‘You all just saw us drink a glass of water. Our municipal water here in East Palestine is safe,’ said Mayor Trent R. Conaway. ‘If you have well water, please get it tested, and please stay away from the creeks and streams — yes, they are polluted, and we have had fish kills, but as far as the municipal water, it is safe.’
Following the February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride and other toxic substances, residents of East Palestine have expressed fears about air and water safety, amid anecdotal reports of illness symptoms.
The Ohio EPA on Friday released final testing results confirming ‘that there is no indication of risk to East Palestine Public Water customers.’
Officials including (left to right) Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, Mayor Trent R. Conaway, Lt. Governor Jon Husted, US Rep. Bill Johnson, and local officials drank the tap water
At least 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters, have been found dead along more than seven miles of streams in the area, and officials say the surface water is contaminated and should be avoided
‘Treated drinking water shows no detection of contaminants associated with the derailment,’ the agency said in a statement.
The five wells used for the town’s drinking water are about a mile from the derailment site, and are at least 56 feet below the surface, covered by a solid steel casing that protects the water from contamination, officials said.
However, at least 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters, have been found dead along more than seven miles of streams, according to the estimates from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
As well, many of the area’s residents use private well water, which officials say should be avoided until it is cleared as safe by Ohio EPA testing.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, also said Friday that the chemicals that spilled into the Ohio River are no longer a risk, even as people in the community say they have constant headaches and irritated eyes.
The state plans to open a medical clinic in the village of 4,700 to analyze their symptoms, despite repeated statements that air and water testing has shown no signs of contaminants.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited the site Thursday, walking along a creek that still reeked of chemicals even as he sought to reassure skeptical residents that the water is fit for drinking and the air safe to breathe.
‘I’m asking they trust the government,’ Regan said. ‘I know that’s hard. We know there’s a lack of trust.’ Officials are ‘testing for everything that was on that train,’ he said.
‘You all just saw us drink a glass of water. Our municipal water here in East Palestine is safe,’ said Mayor Trent R. Conaway (right) on Friday
Still, uncertainty persists about the consequences of a derailment that occurred roughly two weeks ago.
Peter DeCarlo, a professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told ABC News on Sunday that more testing is needed to determine which chemicals are present.
‘We just don’t have the information we need to understand what chemicals may be present,’ DeCarlo said.
‘We know it started as vinyl chloride, but as soon as you burn that all bets are off. You have a lot of chemical byproducts that can happen from a combustion process like that.’
Aside from Regan, no other Cabinet member has visited the rural village, where about 5,000 people live.
Many residents were evacuated as crews conducted a controlled burn of toxic chemicals from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has drawn backlash from some quarters for failing to visit the derailment site, with critics accusing him of attempting to minimize the disaster.
On Sunday, Buttigieg sent a letter to the CEO of Norfolk Southern, warning that the freight rail company must ‘demonstrate unequivocal support for the people’ of East Palestine.
‘Norfolk Southern must live up to its commitment to make residents whole – and must also live up to its obligation to do whatever it takes to stop putting communities such as East Palestine at risk,’ Buttigieg wrote.
‘This is the right time for Norfolk Southern to take a leadership position within the rail industry, shifting to a posture that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation.’
On Monday, President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine drew criticism from some Republicans, who argued he should have visited the East Palestine derailment sight first.
Administration officials insisted their response has been immediate and effective.
‘We´ve been on the ground since February 4 … and we are committed to supporting the people of East Palestine every step of the way,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
‘When these incidents happen, you need to let the emergency response take place,” she said. ‘We did take action and folks were on the ground.’
On Sunday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally deployed a team to East Palestine to support cleanup and recovery efforts.
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, on February 6
No one was injured when about 50 cars derailed in a fiery, mangled mess on the outskirts of East Palestine on February 3
The residents of East Palestine had been previously told they are ineligible for FEMA help because their homes weren’t physically destroyed – even though they may be chemically contaminated.
‘Tomorrow, FEMA will supplement federal efforts by deploying a Senior Response Official along with a Regional Management Incident Assistance Team (IMAT) to support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long term recovery needs,’ Governor DeWine said in a statement on Saturday.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has announced plans to visit East Palestine on Wednesday.
Separately, another industrial disaster struck Ohio on Monday, when an explosion tore through metals plant outside Cleveland.
The blast scattered molten metal and debris that rained down on neighboring buildings and injuring at least 14 people, mostly with burns.
The cause of the explosion at the I. Schumann & Co. metals plant in Bedford remains under investigation.
Fire departments from throughout northeast Ohio responded to the blast, which sent smoke billowing into the sky that could be seen for miles around the damaged factory about 15 miles southeast of Cleveland.
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