President Joe Biden told the press Friday that he has no plans to visit East Palestine, Ohio following the Feb. 3 train derailment that forced members of the community to leave their homes and continues to pose environmental threats to the general vicinity.
In response to a reporter asking Biden on the White House lawn if the Commander-in-Chief will visit East Palestine three weeks after the locomotive derailment and subsequent release of toxic chemicals, the President said “At this moment [I’m] not,” NBC News reported.
Biden assured reporters that he is addressing the situation remotely.
“The answer is that I had a long meeting with my team and what they’re doing. You know, we were there within two hours that the train went down, two hours,” Biden told the press. The President added that his cabinet was “keeping very close tabs” in regards to the aftermath of the destruction.
These comments come after former President Donald Trump, a 2024 Republican presidential front-runner,traveled to the region and donated shipments of bottled water and cleaning supplies as part of the Wednesday campaign stop, according to WKBN. Trump railed against the response (or lack thereof) by the current Democratic administration.
While a handful of Ohio politicians insisted that the tap water in East Palestine is safe to consume in a flurry of social media photo ops, residents remain leery, viewing the water as tainted, VICE reported.
Biden’s Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was on the ground Thursday and “vowed that his department will work with the administration and Congress to prevent future disasters similar to the Feb. 3 train derailment,” NBC noted.
The GOP-majority House Oversight Committee began a probe into the Secretary’s response; including Chairman James Comer of Kentucky alongside other Republican members “[requesting] documents related to maintenance and procedures, including for trains carrying hazardous materials,” according to NBC.
Buttigieg and the White House alike have attributed the toxic train derailment to rail deregulation that happened under the previous administration.
Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have also taken aim at the Biden administration response effort, accusing federal officials of not doing enough to remedy the railway catastrophe, NBC continued.
Sen. Manchin attacked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan for declaring at the scene of the incident Feb. 16 that the administration “would work to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for the derailment.” (Norfolk Southern is the transportation company at the center of the derailment debacle.)
On the same day, the Senator from West Virginia released a statement saying it was “unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior Administration official to show up,” the outlet noted.
According to a Thursday report by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, nearly 40,000 minnows, and 5,000 additional larger species such as “small fish, crayfish, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates” perished in a 5-mile-radius of the derailment site.
Texas A&M researchers claim that the influx of toxic chemical outpours derived from the Ohio freight train fallout are linked to both “eye and lung irritation” in addition to dangerous chemicals “that are known or suspected to cause cancer,” The Washington Post reported. One of the researchers, Weihsueh Chiu, told the Post that short-term exposure poses little risk, but rather “It would take months, if not years, of exposure to the pollutants for serious health effects.”
In contrast, Keeve Nachman, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Post, “We don’t know enough about how those levels will change over time in order to rule out any concerns about long-term exposures or risks…”