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An update on the cleanup after the train derailment in Ohio

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been just over two weeks since a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Now, officials in the area say it's time for Norfolk Southern to take more responsibility and pay for the costs of cleanup, and they've announced additional assistance for people concerned about the impact the derailment may have on their health.

Reid Frazier with The Allegheny Front was at the press conference this afternoon. And, Reid, Norfolk Southern has been handling the cleanup process, and people are not happy about it. So what did local leaders say today?

REID FRAZIER: Well, EPA Administrator Michael Regan was there, and he said his agency is ordering Norfolk Southern to clean up and remediate the site. Norfolk Southern will have to produce a work plan, which will have to be reviewed and approved by EPA. Regan said that Norfolk Southern won't be let off the hook for the mess it's created.

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MICHAEL REGAN: Norfolk Southern will clean up all contamination in soil and water and safely transport that contamination to the appropriate locations to ensure that residents are not impacted further from the debris and the chemicals you see in the waterways to the soil in and around the crash site.

FRAZIER: And he said, if the work is not done to EPA specifications, the agency will step in and perform the work itself, and Norfolk Southern could end up paying triple the costs of the cleanup. Meanwhile, Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said cleanup at the site continues. There's been thousands of cubic yards of soil as well as over a million gallons of contaminated water removed. There's also a health clinic that anyone with symptoms in the vicinity can go to that's been set up. Here's what he said about that.

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MIKE DEWINE: This is really in response to the concerns that we have heard - that people want to be able to go someplace and get some answers about any kind of medical problem that they believe that they are, in fact, having.

A SHAPIRO: This accident happened on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, and we've talked a lot about the impact on Ohio residents. What about people in Pennsylvania? How have they been affected?

FRAZIER: Well, they've been very concerned. As you know, it's only a few hundred yards from the border, the accident site. And Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has been highly critical of what's been happening. In fact, today he called Norfolk Southern incompetent and greedy. Here's what he had to say.

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JOSH SHAPIRO: They chose not to participate in the unified command. They gave us inaccurate information and conflicting modeling data, and they refused to explore or articulate alternative courses of action when we were dealing with the derailment in the early days.

A SHAPIRO: OK. So the mayor of East Palestine has been on the front lines from the very beginning of this. What does he believe should happen going forward? I mean, is he looking for criminal action against Norfolk Southern?

FRAZIER: Well, all he really wants right now is for them to clean up their mess that they've made. He says he thinks this was an accident. What caused it? He doesn't know. He said that justice, for him, would be turning the clock back to February 2 - the day before the accident.

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TRENT CONAWAY: We're a quiet little town of 4,700, and that's where we want to go. I really hope something good can come out of this. I know that sounds odd with what's transpired in the last few weeks, but, you know, our goal is to - you know, our town comes out better.

A SHAPIRO: And, of course, this derailment and everything that has happened since has raised a lot of questions about rail safety more broadly. Did folks at the press conference say anything about that today?

FRAZIER: Yeah. Governor Mike DeWine has called for more strict regulations. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently conducting the accident investigation. Congressional leaders say the results of that investigation will determine whether there need to be any new laws or rules put in place. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said his department would be calling for stronger safety rules, and he's calling on Congress to act to help them make that happen.

A SHAPIRO: That's Reid Frazier with The Allegheny Front. Thanks for your reporting.

FRAZIER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Reid Frazier | Allegheny Front
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