COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Citizens of East Palestine and the surrounding areas had their first chance to raise concerns Wednesday after the train derailment and chemical fire.
Residents attended two separate town hall meetings Wednesday, the same day when some residents took legal action by filing a federal lawsuit.
The questions were asked, but very few of them were answered during the meetings, mostly due to the fact that the company that owns the train, Norfolk Southern, didn’t show up to either meeting, citing safety concerns for its employees.
“Today I get a phone call that they didn’t feel safe,” said East Palestine Mayor Trent R. Conaway. “I understand, sir. I’m just as frustrated as you. I’m just as frustrated as you guys.”
The class action lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Northern District of Ohio seeks to take Norfolk Southern to trial, accusing the company of negligence and exposing residents to dangerous toxins.
It’s not exactly a new thing for rail cars to derail, or for hazmat shipments to leak. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are approximately 1 million daily hazmat shipments and more than 1,000 derailments every year, which is a huge improvement from 50 years ago, when there were more than 6,000 derailments in a single year.
But the data didn’t help answer the community’s questions.
The Ohio EPA said it hasn’t found any contaminated groundwater just yet, but the water supply is a huge concern, and it’s an issue politicians agree on.
“Of course, we need to get to the bottom of why this happened, but we’ve absolutely got to know that people’s drinking water is safe,” said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Ohio State Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo). “This is a human right, Ohio citizens’ rights, to be feeling safe and secure in their homes.”
A federal EPA administrator is holding a public briefing Thursday afternoon in East Palestine.
Hear more from J.D. Vance this Sunday on The Spectrum.