EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — A public meeting was held Thursday night in East Palestine where frustrations were on full display. About 200 people showed up in the high school auditorium that seats 650 — one lady saying she attended hoping for a plan, but did not hear one.
The frustration started when EPA Administrator Debra Shore started speaking.
“EPA monitors have not detected any volatile organic compounds above levels of health concerns in the community that are attributable to the train derailment,” Shore said.
People jeered. One woman walked out. One man made a hand signal indicative of excessive talking. Another could be heard yelling, “Don’t lie to us.”
During questions and answers, a man from Lawrence County questioned the conflict of interest of Norfolk Southern overseeing the testing.
At one point, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and resident Jamie Cozza went back and forth.
Cozza: “I want you to tell me why everybody in my community is getting sick.”
Conaway: “I want the same answers.”
Cozza: “Well then, let’s get them.”
Conaway: “Well, we’re here, but everybody has to make 1,500 statements. I’m sorry. We’re doing the best we can here. And by the way, just so everybody knows, I tried to keep my cool and now I’ve lost it. I’m a part-time mayor…”
The situation was also testy when Darrell Wilson, an official with Norfolk Southern, spoke. He apologized for what happened to East Palestine and said Norfolk Southern was ready to clean up the contaminated soil under the re-laid tracks but was waiting on EPA approval.
“We’re ready to start tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. … That is not our decision to make. We are no longer in control of the site,” Wilson said. “We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to clean up the site. We’re going to clean up the site.”
As he spoke, a woman in the audience could be heard yelling over him, “You should have done it right the first time.”
One woman told of how she gets a headache when she’s in her house and can’t sell it because she’s afraid the next owner’s kids will die of cancer. And then there was this woman:
“This has touched me on every level. This has touched my family. This has touched my friends. This has touched my farm. This has touched my animals. This has touched my finances. This has touched my home. And it will touch me to the cellular level when I get diagnosed with cancer, ALS, or whatever is going to come down the road if I stay in this contaminated, toxic town and you all know it.”
When the official from Norfolk Southern was asked if the company would offer any financial assistance, Wilson said it would be an evolving conversation. He said all decisions would be data-driven so the right decisions would be made.