‘I Don’t Care’: Community Struck By Toxic Disaster Has Mixed Feelings On Biden’s Pledge To Visit Nearly One Year Later

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Will Kessler Contributor
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  • A Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023, requiring a massive clean-up operation after the incident resulted in a massive release of toxic chemicals.
  • President Joe Biden has once again promised to visit the site after failing to do so for the last year, prompting residents of the community to have mixed feelings about what it means for the people of East Palestine.
  • “He’s had a whole year to come,” Chris Sigler, an East Palestine resident, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “He hasn’t even come. He’s been to Ukraine and Israel and hasn’t been able to come here in the last year in response to the worst environmental disaster of his presidency, maybe of the last 20 years or so. That’s the disheartening part of it.”

Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have mixed feelings about President Joe Biden’s renewed promise to visit the community that was struck by a toxic train derailment nearly one year ago, the Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

The White House announced on Wednesday that Biden would be visiting East Palestine for the first time in February, despite previous promises to visit the site, where a Norfolk Southern train derailed and spilled hazardous chemicals in the small community. Some residents told the DCNF that it is good news that the president is finally coming, while others do not care or are largely skeptical due to his past promises. (RELATED: ‘Not A Big Deal’: Rank-And-File Autoworkers Are Bucking UAW Biden Endorsement, Say They Can ‘Think For’ Themselves)

Tammy and Dr. Rick Tsai are residents of East Palestine who were preparing to retire when the disaster occurred nearly one year ago. Following the disaster response, Rick decided to run for Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District to alleviate issues plaguing his community.

“I don’t care at this point,” Tammy Tsai told the DCNF about Biden’s plans. “I mean, he couldn’t even pronounce the name of our town. That’s maybe not a big thing, but maybe somebody should have told him that earlier on. Maybe he’s corrected it by now. But that just shows you how much he just didn’t know what was going on.”

“People are still getting sick,” Tammy continued. “When it rains, people get nosebleeds. People still get skin rashes and headaches and some people aren’t affected by it. But some people are. It depends on how your body is.”

The derailment by Norfolk Southern resulted in a 49-railcar pileup that included 11 rail cars filled with hazardous chemicals. The hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, led officials investigating from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to become ill with sore throats, headaches, coughing and nausea.

“I think a large part of the community is disgusted,” Rick Tsai told the DCNF. “I think he’s coming here to save face. I described him as a blister. He comes after the fact. I think he’s maybe just because he’s been forced to do so by public opinion.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly promised to visit the site since the incident occurred, first saying that he could in a statement on March 2, just days after telling reporters that he had no plans to visit. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Feb. 23, 2023, after also being criticized for not visiting.

“It’s going to be tough for him to get a warm reception, although he is our president,” Rick continued. “I can’t speak for everybody in the town, but a large percentage of people are very unhappy with him. He’s pretty much abandoned and forgotten us. He hasn’t forgotten us. He doesn’t care. He knows we’re here, actually.”

Former President Donald Trump visited the site just weeks after the disaster, being greeted outside by a line of residents. Trump donated pallets of water and cleaning supplies to the affected residents.

Rick is also concerned about the contamination still in the ground from the crash, remarking that the disaster “response has been horrible” and that chemicals could still be seen coming out of creek water. He criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for ordering Norfolk Southern to conduct all the cleanup associated with the derailment, noting that the government should have taken a more active role.

Some residents are more optimistic about the president’s planned visit, including Don Elzer, a business owner in East Palestine, who believes that a visit from the president could bring more attention to the area and possibly more resources as well.

“I think that’s a great thing,” Elzer told the DCNF. “Anybody of his stature coming to town keeps us in the news and focused on what’s happening here. I think it’s a very good thing. He probably has access to resources that we don’t have here, so if they bring something like that with them, it’d be really good for the economy and for our business districts.”

Elzer noted that his business has seen about a 20% drop in revenue since the accident, but that he did not know whether to attribute that to the disaster or to a broader economic slowdown.

“From my standpoint, it didn’t matter,” Elzer told the DCNF about Biden failing to visit the site over the past year. “The EPA was here; both the federal and state were here; numerous agencies were here doing different things for us. So having him come in would certainly have meant something psychologically to us. But in reality, it didn’t matter. I would much rather hear from the EPA people what’s going on than from a politician.”

Despite the Biden administration’s continued insistence that the president will visit the site, some residents are skeptical that it will ever happen.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Chris Sigler, an East Palestine resident, told the DCNF about Biden’s plans. “He actually said last year, during the year, that he would visit here. He just couldn’t narrow it down to when. So now here we come again; he says he’s going to visit next month. So that’s my first inkling that I believe it when I see it.”

“And it really looks political now on his part on why he’s coming,” Sigler told the DCNF. “He’s had a whole year to come. He hasn’t even come. He’s been to Ukraine and Israel and hasn’t been able to come here in the last year in response to the worst environmental disaster of his presidency, maybe of the last 20 years or so. That’s the disheartening part of it.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request to comment from the DCNF.

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