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‘An act of greed’: Biden meets with residents in East Palestine and Darlington, Pa. a year after Norfolk Southern derailment

(Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 16, 2024

President Joe Biden on Friday made his first visit to East Palestine, Ohio, a year after a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed. The railroad failed its responsibility to transport the chemical safely, the president said, but added his administration was committed to holding Norfolk Southern responsible.

“This was an act of greed that was 100% preventable,” Biden said at a press briefing Friday.

The train that derailed on Feb. 3, 2023, was carrying hazardous materials that caught fire as it leapt the tracks late that evening. Some of the cars carried vinyl chloride, a highly flammable chemical, and officials were concerned about an explosion. A controlled venting of the cars a few days later resulted in a plume of black smoke that became the image most associated with the disaster.

Since the accident, residents of nearby communities have been concerned about the after-effects of the chemical spill on their air and water, although government officials have asserted that both are safe.

Biden had been criticized for not traveling to the area in the days following the derailment. During Friday’s visit he was joined by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, and met with residents, business owners and first responders who were affected. Biden praised the “courage and resilience” of the community.

“President Biden, your long-awaited visit to our village today allows us to focus on the things we agree with, acknowledge this disaster should never happen, address the long-term health concerns and the economic growth of the village and ensure this never happens again to another community,” East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said Friday during the press briefing.

The president landed in Pittsburgh early Friday afternoon and first visited the municipal complex in Darlington, Pa., just over the Ohio border, where many residents were also affected by the derailment and chemical spill. He met with local officials and first responders there, and spoke with U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-17th District), who has pushed for legislation to make trains that transport hazardous chemicals safer.

“It was important for the President to spend time in Western Pennsylvania, where so many were affected by Norfolk Southern’s toxic derailment in East Palestine, and to increase the pressure on those in Congress who are blocking my bill, the Railway Safety Act,” Deluzio said in a statement Friday.

“It is unacceptable to me that Congress has not yet taken action on the Railway Safety Act. While the powerful rail lobby might not like it, folks like us who live near the tracks expect something to change to make us safer,” he added. “We need to make these big railroads operate more safely—because history shows that we cannot trust them to regulate themselves.”

During Friday’s trip Biden visited a candle company in East Palestine where he drank from a glass of tap water, according to a press pool report, something the White House had been asked about when the president’s visit was first announced.

Biden also announced Friday that his administration was awarding six National Institutes of Health grants to research the effects of the derailment. The White House said the research would be conducted in partnership with the community to help identify potential health effects, and support monitoring health effects, something residents have called a top priority.

The grants were awarded to research teams at Case Western Reserve University in nearby Cleveland, the University of Pittsburgh, Texas A&M University, UCLA-San Diego and the University of Kentucky.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican or independent. What matters is we’re all Americans, everyone, everyone, 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. That’s what’s happening right here in this community,” Biden said Friday. “A vast majority has been done. But we’re gonna stay to the very end until every deed is met.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.