Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the site of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday, nearly three weeks after the fiery wreck forced residents from their homes.
Buttigieg arrived in East Palestine to meet with local residents who have expressed increasing frustration with the lack of federal response to the disaster that struck their town on Feb. 3 when fifty cars carrying hazardous materials derailed, sparking a massive fire, The Associated Press reported.
This morning I’m in East Palestine, Ohio, to see the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment, hear updates from investigators, and meet first responders. USDOT will continue its work to ensure safety and accountability. pic.twitter.com/okA6WI7uzI
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) February 23, 2023
Concern over the toxic fallout from the fire have left residents feeling “mentally exhausted” as they grapple with the potential of long-term impacts to their health and the environment, NBC News reported. “We’re afraid to shower,” local resident Doug Brayshaw told the outlet. “I won’t even give my dog drinking water out of my well right now because I’m worried.”
Buttigieg has been under fire for not responding publicly about the derailment until ten days after the wreck when he tweeted his “concern” on Feb 13. When pressed about his delayed response, the secretary admitted he “could have spoken sooner” but maintained his office was “focused on the actions that are gonna make a difference.” (RELATED: Sen. JD Vance Blasts Buttigieg For Focus On ‘Fake Problems’ After Toxic Train Derailment)
The Biden Administration also stood by its response, pointing out that officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other agencies arrived in East Palestine hours after the derailment, AP reported. The EPA and Norfolk Southern, the company that owned the derailed train, have been engaged in a cleanup effort, testing air quality outside and in 533 homes as well as running tests on the municipal water supply for drinkability.
Residents have been skeptical about the efforts, however.
Jenna Catone, 31, who was displaced to a hotel for 10 days after the derailment, told NBC News that when she was given the opportunity to have her home “cleaned” by a contractor supplied by Norfolk Southern, she jumped at the opportunity. Instead of a thorough scrub down, however, Catone stated that a man came by, sprayed her home with a disinfectant and odor neutralizer and left.
“They didn’t even bring a rag in with them,” she said.
The EPA took over the management of cleanup efforts on Feb. 22 with the understanding that all costs incurred would be shouldered by Norfolk Southern. The agency also announced that air monitoring and water sample tests are showing nothing of concern, and that they will present more detailed findings as they become available, NPR reported.