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Gov. Mike DeWine, EPA: Norfolk Southern to be held accountable for East Palestine cleanup

The Columbus Dispatch 2/21/2023 Haley BeMiller, The Columbus Dispatch
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that it will order Norfolk Southern to clean up East Palestine after a train derailed in the village, spilling chemicals into the air water and soil.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan joined Gov. Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, in East Palestine to assure residents that they won't be left behind. The news conference came nearly three weeks after the freight train crashed in a fiery wreck and temporarily forced residents out of their homes.

Here are other highlights from Tuesday's update.

More:EPA orders Norfolk Southern to clean up East Palestine train derailment site

Norfolk Southern ordered to clean up East Palestine

As part of the EPA's order, Norfolk Southern will be required to:

  • Identify and clean up contaminated soil and water and transport it to the appropriate facilities.
  • Reimburse the EPA for cleaning services offered to residents and businesses, which will be conducted by EPA staff and contractors.
  • Attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online.
  • Pay for EPA’s costs for work performed under this order.

EPA officials will approve the company's workplan. If they fail to follow through, the EPA will conduct the necessary work and seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost. 

“In no way, shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess they created,” Regan said.

Regan: 'Our data is very solid'

Officials continue to sample air, water and soil in the area and say the village's water is safe to drink. Regan could not say for sure if the EPA is testing for dioxins in addition to the chemicals on the train, but he said that's still on the table.

Private well tests are still being processed by the lab.

"If the homes have been cleared and tested for drinking water, then we trust that data," Regan said.

Still, Regan said they aren't discounting residents' health concerns and encouraged them to visit a clinic that opened Tuesday if they need medical attention.

More:U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calls for rail safety after Ohio derailment

Ohio, Pennsylvania exploring options for relief

DeWine said Attorney General Dave Yost is continuing to assess the situation. Yost penned a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw last week warning that his office is considering litigation.

"(Yost) will certainly take the appropriate action, I can guarantee you that," DeWine said.

Shapiro said the state has made a criminal referral to the acting attorney general in Pennsylvania.

"In the face of Norfolk Southern's arrogance and incompetence, I want you to know we are fighting back," Shapiro said. "We stand with the good people of Pennsylvania and Ohio. We stand with them against this corporate greed and incompetence."

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway speaks alongside federal and state officials during a news conference in East Palestine on Feb. 20. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway speaks alongside federal and state officials during a news conference in East Palestine on Feb. 20.

Mayor Conaway: 'We don't want to be political pawns'

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told reporters that his community has one priority: Getting back to normal.

"Justice for me would be making our town whole again, turning back the clock to Feb. 2, 2023," he said. "Hopefully we come out better than we were on that date. We need our town cleaned up. We need our residents to feel safe in their homes."

Conaway told Fox News Monday that President Joe Biden's visit to Ukraine was a "slap in the face" as his village grapples with the aftermath of the derailment. When asked Tuesday if he wanted Biden to visit, the mayor hesitated before saying he wouldn't turn anyone away.

"We don't want to be political pawns," Conaway said. "We don't want to be a soundbite or a news play. We just want to get back to living our lives."

Trump is expected to visit East Palestine on Wednesday.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Gov. Mike DeWine, EPA: Norfolk Southern to be held accountable for East Palestine cleanup

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