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President Biden to visit East Palestine to mark derailment anniversary

A drone shot of remediation in East Palestine.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
The White House says President Biden will travel to East Palestine in February to get an assessment of the cleanup in the year since the February 2023 derailment. Norfolk Southern turned its attention to remediating the areas around the train tracks, as seen here on June 26, 2023.

President Joe Biden plans to visit East Palestine to meet with residents, marking the one-year anniversary of the Norfolk Southern train derailment, the White House announced Wednesday. A date and time have not been announced but a senior administration official said it will happen sometime in February. Biden is expected to get an assessment of the clean-up from the contamination that resulted from the derailment and subsequent burn-off of vinyl chloride from five damaged tanker cars, along with efforts to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.

In the weeks after the derailment, the U.S. EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up all environmental damage caused by the derailment. While the EPA declared in October that the cleanup of contaminated soil at the derailment site was nearly complete, work has continued on cleaning up nearby waterways that were impacted.

The president signed an executive order in September 2023 directing that Norfolk Southern must continue to be held accountable for the derailment and any long-term impacts.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, White House officials gave a glimpse of the next steps likely to be taken in East Palestine.

Anne Bink, Associate Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Office of Response and Recovery said FEMA will continue to support the people of East Palestine as they recover.

"Our agency is committed, and we will continue to be with the people of East Palestine as they transition to long term recovery support," said Bink.

According to a senior Biden administration official, an assessment is being worked on to determine what the community still needs. A plan is likely to be announced by the East Palestine City Council soon. The EPA says it will continue to monitor the air, soil and water for contaminants.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the air, soil and water monitoring has been ongoing for a year and should put the minds of residents in East Palestine at ease.

"We're confident that the residents of East Palestine are not at risk from impact at surface water, soil or air from the derailment," Regan told reporters.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in order to prevent a disaster like what happened in East Palestine from happening again, more people need to step up.

"We've done our part at the D.O.T.," said Buttigieg. "We are pressing industry to do their part. Congress needs to act as well, and any congressional leader of any party who is serious about railroad safety should support funding for railroad safety inspections and inspectors and should support the Railway Safety Act. "

Ohio U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and JD Vance are the sponsors of the Railroad Safety Act. On Tuesday, Brown said despite passing a senate committee, he could not get the bill a floor vote. Brown blamed the railroad lobby.

Updated: January 31, 2024 at 6:28 PM EST
This story has been updated with new information from Biden administration officials.
Mariah Alanskas is a news intern at Ideastream Public Media.
Josh Boose is associate producer for newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.