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EPA chief provides update on air following East Palestine derailment

Angelo Merendino/Getty Images

(EAST PALESTINE, Ohio) — As the cleanup and investigation continues into the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, concerned residents have been pushing government officials for more answers on the state of the surrounding environment.


EPA Administrator Michael Regan spoke with GMA 3 about the latest updates Friday.

GMA3: We have a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it. Why are you so confident that it’s safe for residents to go back to their homes? And what do you tell people who are still skeptical?

MICHAEL REGAN: First of all, I tell them I’m thankful for state, local and federal coordination and our emergency responders. There have been no loss of life or serious injuries because of this derailment. I understand people’s anxiety. I’ve spent time on the ground with families just yesterday and in the community. And I’m confident because we’ve deployed some of the highest technologies we have to monitor the air. We have mobile vans in and out of the community. We have stationary air monitors and we’ve been in nearly 500 homes testing the indoor air quality. So for homes that have been tested, we are confident that if your home has been tested and you’ve been given the green light, the air is safe. The state is leading on the testing of the water quality. And I trust what Gov. [Mike] DeWine is saying, which is if the state has tested your water and you’ve been given the green light, then that water is safe. But if the state has not tested your water, he is advising and the state is advising that the residents continue to use bottled water.

GMA 3: So, Mr.Administrator, you were in East Palestine yesterday. You say that you trust the science here, but as a father, would you keep your family there if this was your town? And what were you hearing from residents yesterday?

REGAN: I spent time in [a resident’s] home yesterday listening to her talk about her experience. And she has aging parents that she’s taking care of as well. I understand the concerns as a father, as a husband, as a son who has parents over the age of 70. All families should feel that their water is safe to drink and the air is clean and breathable in the homes that have been tested. And looking at the data of our advanced technology in terms of air quality monitoring, if I were in the community, I would return if state, local and federal government had cleared me to do so. I would not drink the water if the water had not been tested. But if the water has been tested, I trust what the science is saying.

GMA 3: Sir, let’s talk about some numbers here. This train had 141 freight cars with some carrying, of course, those extremely hazardous materials. It had three people on board. You had two rail workers and one trainee. Do you believe that’s enough when you’re transporting toxic chemicals?

REGAN: I don’t want to get out in front of a very serious investigation by NTSB and the Department of Transportation. But I think there are a lot of folks asking that question. I know D.O.T. is leading a very thorough investigation, and I know Congress is reevaluating that as well. What we want to stress is that we’ve been there since Day One. The president has talked to the governor, and the White House has been in constant contact with the governor, offering resources that span HUD, HHS, EPA [and] D.O.T. And so while this investigation continues, I think we all have to be there for the residents and assure them that the air is safe and the water is safe.

GMA3: And we know the investigation is happening now, but I think a lot of people want to know how will the rail company, Norfolk Southern, be held accountable and what can the federal government do?

REGAN: I’ve said it a couple of times and I’ll say it again: We will use all of our oversight and enforcement authority to be sure that Norfolk Southern is on the hook for the full cleanup and reimbursement of this community. I’m not the only one that feels that way. You know, the governor of Ohio feels that way. I was on the ground with Congressman [Bill] Johnson, whose district this occurred in and Sen. Sherrod Brown. There is state, local and federal unanimity here in terms of Norfolk Southern will be held accountable for this disaster.

GMA3: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in a statement yesterday that, quote, “While I am glad EPA Administrator Regan will visit the site today, it is unacceptable that it took nearly two weeks for a senior administration official to show up.” Mr. Administrator, why did it take so long?

REGAN: I have to say that again, the emergency responders have done an excellent job, including my EPA staff, who have been on site since Day One, just hours after this disaster occurred. I think we have to be responsible here. And any time you send a senior official into a disaster area like this one, you take away resources from the emergency responders. You take away resources from the state highway patrol. You take away resources from state government. So we wanted to be sure that emergency responders stay focused on the task and ensure that no lives were lost and no serious injury occurred. And that’s what happened. And I was glad to be on the ground yesterday.

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