Better late than never!
President Joe Biden on Friday directed federal agencies to go door-to-door in East Palestine, Ohio, starting Saturday, to check on families affected by the toxic train derailment.
Under Biden’s order, teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency will visit homes.
Workers will ask how residents are doing, see what they need and connect them with appropriate resources from government and nonprofit organizations, the White House said.
The ‘walk teams’ are modeled on similar teams following hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Biden directed employees to get to as many homes as possible by Monday. Officials said the immediate goal was to visit at least 400. The president said he currently has no plans to personally visit Ohio.
President Joe Biden was at a loss for words when explaining to reporters why he has yet to visit East Palestine, Ohio, three weeks after the toxic train derailment
The Biden administration has been accused of being apathetic to the plight of the small Ohio community, where residents are reporting worrying symptoms
Biden on Friday rejected the notion that his administration hasn’t been present in providing assistance in a bizarre exchange as he left the White House to spend the weekend at his Delaware home.
‘We were there two hours after the train went down. Two hours,’ Biden said at the White House. ‘I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and in Ohio. And so the idea that we’re not engaged is simply not there.’
But Democrats – including blundering Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg – have been accused of initially playing the disaster down. They were embarrassed into taking it more seriously after a well-publicized visit to the site by former President Donald Trump earlier this week.
An East Palestine resident waits for former US President Donald Trump’s arrival during his visit to the site of a train wreck and chemical spill in East Palestine
A resident displays a mannequin on their porch in East Palestine, Ohio, as cleanup from the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment continues
During Friday’s interaction, Biden struggled to remember the word Zoom telling reporters: ‘ Did a whole video, I mean, um, what the hell, on,’ Biden rambled as he looked for reporters to fill in the gap. ‘Zoom?’ one of the reporters said, trying to help the president.
‘Zoom! All I can think of every time I think of Zoom is that song in my generation, Who’s Zoomin’ Who,’ he said, referencing the Aretha Franklin song.
A timeline given out by the White House Friday said DOT provided ‘initial incident notification’ to members of the Ohio congressional delegation and relevant committees on Saturday, Feb. 4, less than a day after the derailment.
That same day, EPA deployed real-time air monitoring instruments in 12 locations surrounding the wreck site and in the neighboring community, the White House said.
Residents in East Palestine have reported going to the hospital over rashes following the spill
Pictured: The site of the chemical spill as crews work to suppress the contaminants on Friday
Pictured: The chemical fire releasing toxins into the air in East Palestine
The chemical spill has left many residents too afraid to shower as clean up crews work to gather the destroyed train cars and their cargo
Biden defended his administration’s work and said his team has been in Palestine since day one, but added that he has never been invited to come and that he still has no plans to go
Meanwhile, the controversy spread far beyond the little Ohio town. Officials in Texas and Michigan expressed concern about contaminated wastewater and soil being transported to their states for disposal.
Biden’s order came as House Republicans opened an investigation into the Feb. 3 derailment, blaming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for what they contend was a delayed response to the fiery wreck.
The focus on DOT came even though the EPA took charge of the federal response this week and ordered Norfolk Southern railway to pay for the cleanup and chemical release.
Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, became the latest lawmaker to jump into what has become a political proxy war as each party lays into the other after the derailment and chemical leak that led to evacuation of the small Ohio community.
‘Despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s responsibility to ensure safe and reliable transport in the United States, you ignored the catastrophe for over a week,’ the Kentucky Republican said in a letter to Buttigieg.
‘The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency,’ the letter went on.
Trump boasted earlier this week that he visited the Ohio town before Biden or Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as he delivered water and food supplies
Buttigieg (center) arrived the day after Trump, three weeks into the ongoing crisis. He told reporters he was mulling his decision to wait that long
Meanwhile, Buttigieg has hit back at Ex-president Donald Trump who visited the site this week.
Buttigieg told reporters that if the former president — and current Republican presidential candidate — felt strongly about increased rail safety efforts, ‘one thing he could do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch.’
On Friday, Buttigieg chided Comer for referring in his letter to ‘DOT’s National Transportation Safety Board,’ saying he was ‘alarmed to learn’ the committee chairman’ thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department.
NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre excoriated ‘political stunts that we’re seeing from the other side.’
A preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the crew operating the Norfolk Southern freight train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong.
Republicans are framing the incident as a moral failing at the hands of the Biden administration, noting Buttigieg’s failure to visit the site until nearly three weeks after the wreck.
Democrats point to rollbacks former President Donald Trump made during his term that weakened rail and environmental regulations. EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited the site last week and again on Tuesday.
The dangerous chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment
A train carrying a wide-variety of toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3.
Some of those chemicals have since been released into the air or soil, as residents worry about the long-term health effects.
Among the chemicals released from the derailment are:
Vinyl chloride — train operator Norfolk Southern has said that 10 cars were burning vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. It is a highly-volatile colorless gas used to create polyvinyl chloride, a plastic used in piping, cables, bottles and credit cards.
Symptoms of vinyl chloride exposure include drowsiness, headaches and dizziness. More long-term effects may include cancer and liver damage.
Hydrogen chloride — In trying to mitigate the effects of vinyl chloride, officials conducted a controlled explosion of the train cars, releasing hydrogen chloride.
The chemical is irritating and corrosive to any tissue it gets in contact with, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
Brief exposure can cause throat irritation, but exposure at higher levels can result in rapid breathing, narrowing of the bronchioles, blue coloring of the skin, accumulation of fluid in the lungs and even death.
Phosgene — a chemical that was also released in the controlled explosion.
Like hydrogen chloride, phosgene is an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.
Common initial symptoms include mild irritation of the eyes and throat, with some coughing, choking, nausea, occasional vomiting, headache and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Phosgene poisoning may also cause respiratory and cardiovascular failure, low blood pressure and an accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Ethylhexyl acrylate — a chemical that was carried on the train
It is a known carcinogen that can cause burning and irritation of the skin and eyes. Inhalation of the substance can also irritate the nose and throat, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Isobutylene was also being transported on the train.
Inhalation of isobutylene can cause dizziness and drowsiness
Ethylene glycol monobutyl was another substance being transported to Pennsylvania.
It can cause irritation in the eyes, skin, nose and throat, as well as hematuria (or blood in the urine), nervous system depression, headache and vomiting.