Senate Environment Committee to hold hearing on East Palestine train derailment effects

A cleanup worker stands on a derailed tank car as the cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed over a week ago in East Palestine, Ohio, continues, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Editors note: Story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the committee holding the hearing.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plans to hold a hearing on the environmental and public health impacts on the local community following the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this month.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the committee, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the ranking member, said in a statement that they will focus on the local, state and federal response in the immediate aftermath of the derailment and the efforts to clean up the toxic chemicals that were slowly released into the environment. 

“We believe this is an important step to ensure that response prioritizes the health and safety of those impacted by this terrible accident,” they said. 

The statement did not provide information on when the hearing would be scheduled, but noted that it would be held soon. 

The announcement comes as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to send toxicologists to the site near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania on Saturday to conduct tests to determine the safety of the residents, and whether they can to return to their homes. 

Officials have said the air and water are safe after the Norfolk Southern train derailment that allowed hazardous materials to become exposed to the air on Feb. 3. Their analyses are based on tests they have conducted in the weeks following the crash. 

But some residents have reported strong odors of chemicals in the area and symptoms of illness potentially resulting from the chemicals. 

One of the most dangerous chemicals on board the train was vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing material that is used to create plastics — and is also explosive. Officials burned the substance and conducted a “controlled release” of the chemicals into the air to avoid a potential explosion. 

Residents have called for Norfolk Southern to be held accountable for its role in the crisis. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has said the company should pay for the effects of the derailment, including medical screenings for residents potentially impacted. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Friday that it would send federal assistance to the train derailment site.

DeWine initially said the agency determined that the area was not eligible for disaster support because it usually steps in when significant home and property damage happens from a natural disaster like a hurricane.

Updated on Feb. 18 at 3:00 p.m.


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