Biden admin seeks to reassure public after toxic US train derailment

In this file photo taken on February 04, 2023, smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio. Photo by DUSTIN FRANZ / AFP

Washington, United States -- US officials on Thursday sought to reassure an increasingly nervous public of the government's commitment following a train derailment that resulted in the release of toxic chemicals in the soil, air and water in Ohio.

No traces of vinyl chloride, a colorless carcinogenic gas, nor hydrogen chloride were detected after examining more than 480 homes in the area of the crash, said Michael Regan, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

"I want this community to know that they don't have to manage this issue on their own. We will be here to help," Regan said while visiting the town of East Palestine, where the accident occurred.

Water from wells, streams and the city taps has been tested for multiple factors "to ensure that we're protecting these communities," he added.

The Norfolk Southern cargo train derailment on February 3 sparked a massive fire.

To avert explosion, the railroad conducted a controlled release of the chemicals, which discharged toxic and potentially deadly fumes into the air, the Ohio governor's office said.

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing, adding that "we're going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable."

- 'Screwed up our town' -

Hundreds of evacuated residents have been allowed to return home, however many have voiced alarm over health issues, with some reporting headaches and stating that they fear they may end up with cancer in several years.

Some 3,500 fish meanwhile died along 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of nearby streams, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported.

Authorities say tests show that the air is safe and no pollutants are being detected in the municipal water system.

However those whose water comes from private wells should continue to use bottled water until their well is tested, they said.

One resident told local TV station WKYC that people were "suspicious, paranoid and worried."

Another, Kelly Felger, told CNN that "I'm scared, I'm scared for my family, I'm scared for my town."

Residents voiced similar concerns at a community meeting Wednesday night with Regan and East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway in attendance.

Norfolk Southern had been expected to send a representative, but later said in a statement it would not send any employees because of a "growing physical threat... stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties."

Visibly angry, an exhausted Conaway said he would do "whatever it takes to make this right," but that he would need help.

"They screwed up our town," he added of the train company. "They're going to fix it."

On Thursday, another Norfolk Southern train derailed outside Detroit, Michigan in the small community of Van Buren Township.

Of the overturned cars, one contained agricultural grain and the others were empty, the township's public safety department said on Facebook.

"The involved train had one railcar that contained liquid chlorine; however it was located away from the overturned section," it said.

© Agence France-Presse

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