Biden visits East Palestine a year after toxic train derailment

Written by on February 17, 2024

President Biden. CREDIT: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(EAST PALESTINE, Ohio) — President Joe Biden is visiting East Palestine, Ohio, on Friday to mark one year since a train derailment spilled hazardous materials and toxins into the environment that forced many residents out of their homes.

Biden was briefed by officials and gave remarks on the need to hold Norfolk Southern, the railroad operating the freight train, accountable for the Feb. 3, 2023, spill.

“While there are acts of God, this was an act of greed that was 100% preventable,” Biden said. “Let me say it again: an act of greed that was 100% preventable.”

Biden praised the town for its “herculean efforts” in the wake of the tragedy and pledged to continue to support residents.

“I want them to understand that we’re not going home, no matter what, until this job is done and it’s not done yet,” he said. “There’s a lot more to do. The vast majority’s been done but we’re going to stay until the very end until every need is met.”

Biden faced intense scrutiny for not going to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border town in the immediate aftermath of the derailment. Upon his arrival in East Palestine, Biden was met with some signs that read, “Go home, sleepy Joe” and others requesting he “declare the emergency,” according to reporters traveling with the president.

Former President Donald Trump toured the area just weeks after the incident. He was flanked by East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and local first responders as he distributed water and supplies.

Trump had already announced he was running for the White House again and throughout the trip sought to paint Biden as ineffective in responding to the crisis.

“Unfortunately, as you know, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal in some cases,” Trump told residents.

Trump earlier this week again took aim at Biden, writing on his conservative social media platform: “Biden should have gone there a long time ago — for him to go now is an insult to those who live and work in East Palestine.”

Conaway, who has endorsed Trump in the 2024 race, invited President Biden to East Palestine this month. Conaway told the Associated Press he did so, despite political differences, for the benefit of the community.

“This is a trip that he has been wanting to make but wanted to make sure that it was the right time to do,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday.

President Biden and the White House said after the spill he would visit East Palestine at some point but nothing was scheduled in 2023. Conaway heavily criticized Biden for visiting Ukraine last winter instead of East Palestine, calling it a “slap in the face.”

Biden on Friday emphasized that federal responders were on the ground within hours of the toxic spill, and many of them remain there today. He also called on Congress to enact reform to bipartisan rail safety legislation.

There were no injuries reported from the derailment but 11 of the cars were transporting hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, ethyl acrylate and isobutylene, some of which are considered to be toxic and possibly carcinogenic.

The EPA has maintained confidence that residents of are not at risk from impacted surface water, soil or air from the derailment.

But many families left out of fear for their health. Ashley McCollum told ABC News that she would rather be homeless than return to East Palestine, saying her family has experienced health issues like ear pain, hair loss, rashes and more since the derailment.

Norfolk Southern says it has invested more than $100 million into East Palestine’s recovery, including millions in direct payments to individuals impacted and town projects.

But EPA Administrator Michael Regan told ABC News earlier this month that the company still “must clean up their mess.”

“Let me be clear — Norfolk Southern is not cleaning up this mess and doing it following their own guidelines,” Regan said. “We have layers and layers of protection to ensure that they’re cleaning it up to the standards that we request.”

Biden echoed that sentiment during his visit, telling residents what Norfolk Southern can’t make whole the government will.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican or independent, what matters is we’re all Americans, everyone, everyone,” Biden said. “We look out for one another. We leave no one behind and we come back stronger than before. That’s what you’re doing here.”

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