Derailed: On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train flew off the rails in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. The crash destroyed 50 cars, 11 of them containing toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride that quickly spilled into the water supply near the state border. A lawsuit now alleges that the decision to burn the vinyl chloride could have created a gas similar to the weaponized gas used in World War I.
Cleaning up: On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was taking over the cleanup of East Palestine. Norfolk Southern has already pledged resources in excess of $6 million to clean the spill, with almost $4 million going directly to the affected families in the East Palestine region.
Is it safe? East Palestine residents were told that the municipal water was safe to consume, though the water sampling had been paid for by Norfolk Southern and had testing issues that violated federal standards. The CEO of the railway told residents that the town is safe and that he believes it’s safe for families to return.
Politicians respond: In the wake of the disaster, political figures on the left and right have addressed the unfolding situation. On the left, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stressed stronger rail regulation in the lead-up to his Thursday visit, urging Congress to allow more enforcement from his department. On the right, former President Donald Trump visited the town yesterday, holding a press conference and donating pallets of water bottles to the community.
Big picture: Despite testing, residents are still worried about air and water contamination, as many animals have died in the town. Except for EPA Chief Michael Regan, no senior members of the Biden administration, including the president, have visited East Palestine. What’s more, it took weeks for the transportation secretary to visit the site and for news outlets to take notice.