Vance visited the derailment site and met with local leaders to discuss the cleanup status on Monday evening. According to Vance, the cleanup was supposed to be completed in July but now in the middle of August, it’s still nowhere near completion.
“I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the pace of the cleanup, the fact that I was told the cleanup would be done in June and then told the cleanup would be done at the end of July and then told the cleanup now is going to be done sometime next year,” Vance said.
Vance criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for “dragging its feet” in authorizing plans to remove and dispose of contaminated soil, which was a key component of the cleanup. He claimed Norfolk Southern is also at fault. In order to find a way to speed up the cleanup process, Vance said his office will collaborate with the EPA.
“I think that, in talking to some local officials, that has more to do with the federal EPA, which is dragging its feet a little bit in enabling the cleanup. But I think Norfolk Southern bears some blame for not getting this thing done sooner,” Vance said.
According to federal authorities, on February 3rd, 50 train carriages, 10 of which were carrying hazardous materials, derailed due to a technical problem with a rail car axle. There was vinyl chloride in five of the vehicles. Hundreds of residents evacuated due to the controlled release of poisonous gasses that Norfolk Southern carried out on February 6th to stop an explosion.
For months, cleanup operations have been ongoing. Governor Mike DeWine urged the Biden administration to declare a major presidential disaster last month to free up more funds for the effort.
According to DeWine, locals have continued to report health issues and concerns about the air quality.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency details that Norfolk Southern has hauled 28 million gallons of liquid wastewater out of East Palestine. Norfolk Southern has removed 88,500 tons of excavated soil from East Palestine as of last week.
Vance also said that the U.S. Senate should vote on the stalled Railway Safety Act soon.
The Railway Safety Act, sponsored by U.S. Senators Vance and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would require that trains carrying hazardous materials be scanned by wayside defect detectors, or “hotbox detectors,” every 10 miles to prevent future derailments caused by faulty wheel bearings. It stipulates that railroad companies must provide advance notification to state emergency response commissions when transporting hazardous materials. It requires railroads to operate with at least two-person crews. It also increases the maximum fine for rail safety violations.
The bill is the first significant piece of legislation to better regulate the rail business in many years. Although the proposal has substantial bipartisan support, it has not made much progress since it emerged from committee in May.
According to Vance, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to act on this legislation now.
“We need Chuck Schumer to bring this up for a vote. If it fails, it fails. But I don’t think it will fail. In fact, I feel very confident that we have the votes to pass this thing. But we can’t continue to let it languish, we need to have common sense rail safety,” Vance said.
The Ohio Star contacted the EPA and Schumer for comment but did not receive a reply before press time.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star, The Star News Network, and The Arizona Sun Times. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “JD Vance” by JD Vance. Background Photo “East Palestine, Ohio” by 636Buster. CC BY-SA 4.0.