Biden Administration Defends Response to Train Derailment

February 17, 2023


 The White House on Friday defended its response to the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

The White House said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were deploying a team of medical personnel and toxicologists to conduct public health testing and assessments.

Administration officials further said that Federal Railroad Administration chief Amit Bose would visit the site next week.

Meanwhile, according to the Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting additional testing after hundreds of townspeople were evacuated when rail operator, Norfolk Southern, was forced to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals from crashed train cars to prevent an explosion.

The burning chemical was identified as vinyl chloride. The flammable gas is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, vehicle interior features such as upholstery, and plastic kitchenware.

The EPA has stated that “inhaled vinyl chloride has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans,” and there are other potential effects from exposure to it.

There have also been questions about the safety of the drinking water in and around East Palestine, which is a 90-minute drive from Cleveland. Butyl acrylate was detected in the Ohio River following the train crash, but on Friday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said the level of chemicals in the Ohio River was no longer detectable.

“We do believe that there’s no reason to be concerned about water from the Ohio River, and there’s never really been a reason to be concerned,” DeWine said during a public briefing.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a health guidance bulletin stating that butyl acrylate can start having negative health effects at 560 parts per billion. On Thursday, the Ohio EPA reported that the highest levels detected were three parts per billion.

This week both Democratic and Republican Senators called for a Congressional investigation into the train derailment. The Senators are seeking answers from the EPA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Department of Transportation. 

One of those Senators, Marco Rubio (R-FL), has called on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to resign because he “refused to acknowledge the disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, until his intentional ignorance was no longer tenable.” 

Buttigieg has said he’ll be supporting the EPA in its investigation in the aftermath of the train derailment. He has further asserted that the Biden Administration was making  “historic investments” stemming from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package signed into law in November 2021.

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