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More than 500 “home re-entry screenings” were carried out by federal officials in East Palestine, Ohio, following last month’s train derailment and release of toxic chemicals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A statement issued by the EPA said federal officials conducted 578 home screenings and continue to maintain air monitoring at 16 stations within the community. “There have been no exceedances for residential air quality standards, and outdoor air quality remains normal,” the release said.
“EPA is continuing to offer the air-screening service to any resident within the [one-mile] evacuation zone who wants a screening,” EPA regional administrator Debra Shore said in a Wednesday news conference. “I encourage anyone who hasn’t taken advantage of this service to get in touch with us.”
On Feb. 24, the Biden administration ordered teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EPA, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to visit homes from Feb. 25. Workers were ordered to ask residents about how they are doing, see what they need, and connect them with appropriate resources from government and nonprofit organizations, the White House has said.
The “walk teams” are modeled on similar teams following hurricanes and other natural disasters. The administration directed employees to get to as many homes as possible by Monday. Officials said the immediate goal was to visit at least 400.
As of Wednesday, FEMA said it had 66 of its staff on the ground in East Palestine and “will continue to assist with outreach across the affected communities to ensure that we are meeting people where they are and connecting them to critical federal, state, and local resources,” according to the news release. “Interagency teams were out in the community of East Palestine today to ensure residents were receiving up-to-date information.”
It’s not clear when—or if—President Joe Biden will visit the Ohio village. Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made his first visit to the area, evaluating the crash site.
A preliminary report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the crew operating the Norfolk Southern freight train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong.
On Tuesday, the EPA opened an office where people can sign up for air monitoring inside their homes and cleaning services at their homes and businesses. Residents can also go to the office to ask officials other questions about the cleanup effort.
“We want to go that extra mile so that people feel comfortable living in their community,” EPA Administrator Regan said at a news conference after he earlier met with high school students in the village on Tuesday. “The people of East Palestine will not have to figure out what comes next on their own.”
Since February’s derailment and burning of vinyl chloride, a number of East Palestine residents have stated they’ve suffered a number of health problems, including bronchitis, rashes, headaches, respiratory problems, and more. There have also been reports of thousands of animals dying off, including fish, chicken, foxes, and cats.
This week, a representative for a railway union, told Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that workers who helped clean up the train derailment wreckage have suffered nausea and migraines.
“I am writing to share with you the level of disregard that Norfolk Southern has for the safety of the railroad’s Workers, its track structure, and East Palestine and other American communities where NS operates,” the letter stated. “I am also imploring you as the Governor of the State of Ohio to use your influence and power to stop NS’s reckless business practices that endanger the public and their Workers.”
The EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to cover the costs of cleaning up from the Feb. 3 derailment that toppled 38 rail cars. No one was hurt, but concerns over a potential explosion led state and local officials to approve releasing and burning toxic vinyl chloride from five tanker cars.
Norfolk Southern is scheduled to attend a public meeting with residents of East Palestine on Thursday at the request of the EPA. Officials with the firm declined to attend a meeting last month and claimed they faced safety issues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.