EPA holds town hall in East Palestine

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 2:59 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 5:42 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Desperate for answers, residents of East Palestine unload their anger on a Norfolk Southern representative during a town hall meeting on the heels of that massive train derailment.

A smaller than normal crowd gathered in the auditorium of East Palestine High School on Thursday night as an update on the clean-up plan was given and then the floor opened for residents to ask questions of Norfolk Southern, the EPA, CDC and others.

Darrell Wilson, an Associate Vice-President for Government Relations with Norfolk Southern walked up to the podium, telling residents of East Palestine and surrounding communities that they are sorry, “We are sorry, we are very, very sorry.”

But, the apology was met with resistance as people yelled out in frustration, heckling Wilson as he tried to answer questions.

Wilson, said remediation work to remove contaminated soil and replace the tracks where the derailment happened will hopefully begin at first light on Friday. But, people in the audience questioned why it wasn’t done properly in the first place.

Norfolk Southern will now open up an office in town for the long term according to Wilson, “We want to talk to all of you. That’s why we’re here. We know you have questions.”

But, the residents were determined to hold everyone accountable including East Palestine’s Mayor. Resident Jami Cozzi asking the Mayor, “Why haven’t you returned my phone call Mayor? I feel sorry for those women you’re making work in that office.”

Mayor Trent Conaway responded saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You need to educate yourself on how this town works.”

Cozzi laughed out loud saying, “Educate myself, okay.”

But, the main question a growing number of people wanted to know, why are so many people getting ill in East Palestine if the air and water quality tests are truly okay?

Cozzi who is unable to return to her home because it’s unsafe, also has a 3-year-old daughter, “They’re all scientists sitting up here telling us nothing is wrong. I want you to tell me why everyone is getting sick?”

Mayor Conaway responding back in a stern tone, “We’re doing the best we can. Just so everyone know I tried to keep my cool, now I lost it. I’m a part-time Mayor.”

But, with so many questions, residents again feeling the answers just aren’t coming, as a community demands to know how they get their lives back after a derailment catastrophe has turned life in this small town upside down.

One man emotional approached the podium with a quiver in his voice saying, “This is not something we asked for. I am begging you by the grace of God, please get our people out.”

Many residents saying their land is no long worth anything because of the derailment disaster that’s left so many questions about the health and safety of the community and the environment as the clean-up continues.

A Resource Fair was also held by the U.S. EPA in the gym of the high school at the same time.

There were 12 representatives from Norfolk Southern to answer questions about the on-going cleanup efforts.

Another town hall is expected to be held in two weeks.

According to Wednesday’s daily briefing, hazardous waste removal is well underway, with around 2.1 million gallons of liquid wastewater being hauled out.

An announcement from Governor Mike DeWine stated that:

  • Approximately 190,000 gallons have been shipped to Vickery Environmental in Vickery, Ohio, to be disposed of through deep well injection.
  • Approximately 1.6 million gallons have been shipped to Texas Molecular in Deer Park, Texas, to be disposed of through deep well injection.
  • Approximately 300,000 gallons have been hauled to Detroit Industrial Well in Romulus, Michigan to be disposed of through deep well injection.

“If you look at the different bodies of water the further out you get you’re starting to see life coming back it’s an indication but we know that we have certain areas and Fran and I viewed this today where we’re working very very hard every single day to make sure that the contamination is taken care of and it’s gone,” Gov. DeWine said.

The EPA also reported around 1,400 tons of solid waste leaving the derailment site, going to:

  • Approximately 140 tons have been hauled to Ross Incineration Services in Grafton, Ohio, to be incinerated.
  • Approximately 370 tons have been hauled to Heritage Thermal Services in East Liverpool, Ohio, to be incinerated.
  • Approximately 440 tons have been shipped to U.S. Ecology Wayne Disposal in Belleville, Michigan, to be placed in a landfill.
  • Approximately 440 tons have been hauled to Heritage Environmental Services in North Roachdale, Indiana to be placed in a landfill.

Gov. DeWine also announced Wednesday that he spoke with the CEOs of both Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads about increased train derailment response training for first responders.

He said that both CEOs were in favor of working with the state to increase railroad-specific training to first responders, including volunteer firefighters, who would most likely be the first to respond to these situations.

Gov. DeWine said that the Ohio Public Utilities Commission currently has up to $800,000 in grant funding available to pay for this training.