Ohio Senate committee has a lot of questions about cleanup following East Palestine train derailment
An Ohio Senate committee held its first hearing on the toxic train derailment in East Palestine. And they had a lot of questions for leaders of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA).
OEPA Director Anne Vogel told the committee the cleanup is going smoothly. She said soil and liquid have been moved offsite to approved facilities. And she said cleanup on contaminated creeks continues.
But Vogel said the contaminated soil around the railroad tracks where the derailment happened has not yet been removed.
"Rails have not been torn up yet. We have a work plan from Norfolk Southern that we are reviewing right as we speak. And that will determine how the rail work gets done," Vogel said.
Vogel said her agency will remain on site, doing testing over time on air, soil and water. And she said it will continue to be there to monitor cleanup and public health over time.
OEMA Director Sima Merik said her organization is helping the community in three basic areas. One, she said, is making sure all of the resources for basic needs are met. And she said Ohio State Highway Patrol is assisting with security, communication and VIP control. And Merik said the agency is working in coordination with local first responders to make sure they have what they need.
The committee's vice-chair, Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem), who represents the Senate district that includes East Palestine, credited OEPA for being on the ground since the derailment on February 3. And he said he is pleased to hear OEPA will continue monitoring the situation for the long term.
"This problem is so deep and is going to go for a while and the most exciting thing I've heard you say today is that you are in for the long haul and for that I thank you," Rulli said.
Rulli said there has been a breakdown in communication on the ground between federal and state agencies. He said the anxiety of his district is "at a fevered pitch" right now so improving communication, especially with the community, is important. He said it's important to view this process as a marathon, not a sprint. And Rulli said he wants to get to the bottom of this and make changes to make railroads safer and not allow this issue to get mired in politics.
"We need the feds to work with us. This is bipartisan. You know train derailments could care less what political party you are in because it is going through all of our neighborhoods," Rulli said.
Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), who lives five houses away from railroad tracks, said it was a miracle no one was killed. She said it's important to learn how to prevent this from happening again.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislature is trying to take other actions to make railroads in Ohio safer. A requirement to maintain two-person crews and other train-related proposals have been added to the state transportation budget. The house version of that budget passed the full Ohio House earlier today. Senators are scheduled to weigh in on it next.
Also today, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) introduced a proposal they think would increase railroad safety. It would, among other things, require railroads to notify states when trains with hazardous materials are coming through a state, have a written gas discharge plan if hazardous materials are being transported, and reduce or eliminate blocked crossings resulting from delays in the train's movements.