The Biden administration was widely criticized for its response in the aftermath of a Norfolk Southern train derailment that released toxic chemicals.
One year after a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, President Joe Biden will make his first visit to the eastern Ohio village, according to a White House statement.
President Biden will meet with residents affected by the fiery crash and “assess the progress that his administration has helped deliver in coordination with state and local leaders to protect the community and hold Norfolk Southern accountable,” the statement explained.
Until the derailment, most Americans had never heard of East Palestine, a village in eastern Ohio about a mile from the Pennsylvania border.
Life abruptly changed for East Palestine residents on Feb. 3, 2023. At around 9 p.m., a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train carrying 151 cars derailed in the community of 4,761 people.
Hazardous chemicals in several of the rail cars, including vinyl chloride, spilled onto the ground and into the air.
Fears escalated in the immediate aftermath of the wreck. Seeking to avoid an explosion that officials claimed would send shrapnel flying around, vinyl chloride was intentionally released and burned on Feb. 6, sending a massive cloud of black smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles around.
Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC pipes and other products. The National Cancer Institute notes that the toxic chemical has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver.
The burn triggered questions about the potential health effects on the residents of East Palestine.
Before the burn, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged residents in a one-by-two-mile area surrounding East Palestine—which included parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania—to evacuate.
Mr. DeWine described the urgency as a “matter of life and death.”
Three days later, Mr. DeWine held a press conference announcing that the evacuation order had been lifted and residents could return to their homes.
Norfolk Southern trains resumed their routes through East Palestine, and federal and state officials said testing showed that the air and water were safe.
Cleanup work continues almost a year later.
Almost a year after the disaster, residents are still complaining about a toxic smell in the air, burning eyes, rashes, and headaches among other health issues.
In its Jan. 31 statement, the White House said that “under President Biden’s leadership,” the Environmental Protection Agency deployed a team of trained emergency response personnel to help local and state emergency and environmental response efforts.
“The Department of Transportation also arrived on scene within hours to support the National Transportation Safety Board in their independent investigation of the derailment,” the statement noted.
The Biden administration was widely criticized; however, for its handling of the toxic train derailment’s aftermath.
President Biden was repeatedly asked when he would visit East Palestine. The White House responded multiple times that he would travel to the village eventually.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was chastised for not even mentioning the derailment until 10 days after it happened. He didn’t visit East Palestine until Feb. 23, 2023, a day after former President Donald Trump arrived in the village.
While President Biden was returning to the White House from his trip to Poland and Ukraine—where he pledged hundreds of millions more in aid for the war-torn country—Mr. Trump arrived in East Palestine bringing with him Trump-brand bottled water, cleaning supplies, and words of encouragement.
Mr. Trump criticized the Biden administration’s response, telling residents: “In too many cases, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal.”
East Palestine residents, and Trump supporters who traveled to the village from across Ohio and Pennsylvania, praised the former president for taking the time to pay a visit.
“Here’s the thing: Love him or hate him, he took time to come to this town. Where are the people from the White House, and the president? Giving billions of dollars to another country,” local resident Michele Payne said, referring to Ukraine.
“It is because of the exposure that they are doing something and not sweeping this under the rug.”
“Buttigieg should’ve been here already,” Mr. Trump said on Feb. 22, 2023, during his visit.
“Get over here,” Mr. Trump added in a message intended for Biden.
Mr. Trump’s visit and Mr. Buttigieg’s arrival a day later were among the conversation topics among locals gathered around the bar area at The Original Roadhouse after Trump departed the village.
“I could tell you what I think about the Secretary of Transportation and the president, but you wouldn’t be allowed to print it,” one man said.
“They think we are a bunch of hillbillies. Well, we might be, but many of us are educated hillbillies.
“We love this town, and we support each other. We expect support from our government, and it is slow to happen.”
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a registered Republican in deeply conservative Columbiana County, said that Biden’s decision to visit Ukraine before traveling to his village was “the biggest slap in the face.”
“That tells you right now he doesn’t care about us,” he said. “He can send every agency he wants to, but I found out this morning in one of the briefings that he was in Ukraine giving millions of dollars away to people over there and not to us.
“The president is always welcome to our town. That being said, I don’t know what he would do here now,” Mr. Conaway added.
The White House said in its statement that the Biden administration will “continue to support the people of East Palestine and other affected communities for as long as it takes, including by using every available tool to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who is running for president as an independent, is an environmental attorney who is still representing dozens of families impacted by the East Palestine train derailment.
Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times that President Biden should have visited East Palestine not long after the disaster happened to provide encouragement and emotional support.
Columbiana County is a region where President Trump decisively defeated President Biden in 2020.
Local residents have speculated that President Biden has avoided a visit because it is an area where President Trump is beloved.
“That is what a president should do. Whether a disaster happens in an area where the president is liked or unliked, the president of the United States should show he cares about American citizens and give them hope,” Mr. Kennedy added.