After the Ohio train crash, Biden orders house-to-house checks

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday directed federal agencies to go door-to-door in eastern Palestine, Ohio, screening families affected by the toxic train derailment, which has turned into a heated political controversy.

On Biden’s order, teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Agency for Emergency Management will be visiting homes starting Saturday. Workers will ask how residents are doing, see what they need and connect them with appropriate resources from governments and nonprofits, the White House said.

The “Walk Teams” are modeled after similar teams after hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Biden instructed employees to reach as many homes as possible by Monday. Officials said the immediate goal is for at least 400 to visit. The president said he has no plans to visit Ohio in person at this time.

Meanwhile, the controversy spread far beyond the small Ohio town. Officials in Texas and Michigan have expressed concern about contaminated sewage and soil being shipped to their states for disposal.

Biden’s order came as House Republicans opened an investigation into the Feb. 3 derailment, blaming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for a delayed response to the burning wreckage. The focus on DOT came even though the EPA this week echoed the federal response, ordering the Norfolk Southern Railway to pay for chemical cleaning and release.

Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, was the latest lawmaker to throw himself into a political proxy war as each party sided with the other after the derailment and chemical leak that led to the evacuation of the small Ohio community .

“Despite the responsibility of the US Department of Transportation to ensure safe and reliable transportation in the United States, you have ignored the disaster for over a week,” the Kentucky Republican said in a letter to Buttigieg. “The American people deserve answers as to what caused the derailment, and DOT needs to provide an explanation for its leadership’s apathy in the face of this emergency.”

A preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board says the crew of the Norfolk Southern freight train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks, and there’s no indication the crew members did anything wrong.

Republicans portray the incident as a moral failure by the Biden administration, noting Buttigieg did not visit the site until almost three weeks after the wreck. Democrats point to rollbacks made by former President Donald Trump during his tenure that have weakened rail and environmental regulations. EPO Administrator Michael Regan visited the site last week and again on Tuesday.

Biden on Friday dismissed the notion that his administration was not present at the delivery of aid.

“We were there two hours after the train left. Two hours,” Biden said at the White House. “I spoke to all the important figures in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And so the idea that we’re not engaged just isn’t there.”

A timeline released by the White House on Friday says the DOT issued an “initial notification of incidents” to members of the Ohio congressional delegation and relevant committees on Saturday, Feb. 4, less than a day after the derailment.

On the same day, the EPA deployed real-time aerial surveillance tools at 12 locations around the wreck site and in the neighboring community, the White House said.

White House officials reached out to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office on Sunday, February 5, to offer additional federal assistance, the White House said in its most detailed report of the initial federal response to the wreck, which has led to 24/7. watch news stories.

The oversight letter is requesting documents and notices of when DOT executives learned of the derailment and whether they received guidance on what the public response should be, as well as recent changes in the maintenance and procedures of the agency’s trains .

A day earlier, Buttigieg made his first visit to the crash site, hitting back at Trump, who had visited him the day before and criticized the federal response.

Buttigieg told reporters that if the former president — and current Republican presidential nominee — pushed hard for increased rail safety efforts, “among other things, he might be expressing his support for reversing the deregulation that took place under his oversight.”

On Friday, Buttigieg chided Comer for referencing “DOT’s National Transportation Safety Board” in his letter and said he was “disturbed to learn” that the committee chair “thinks the NTSB is part of our department.” NTSB is independent (and for good reason). Nevertheless, we will of course examine this fully and react appropriately.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre criticized “political stunts that we see from the other side”.

Norfolk Southern said the NTSB report showed the train’s heat detectors were working as designed and the crew were operating “within company rules.” Still, the company said it needed to “learn as much as possible from this event” and “develop practices and invest in technology that could help prevent such an incident in the future.”

Among the boxcars that derailed in the outskirts of eastern Palestine near the Pennsylvania state line were 11 carrying hazardous materials. Residents were evacuated as fears of a possible explosion of smoldering debris grew.

Concerned about an uncontrolled explosion, officials released and burned toxic vinyl chloride from five train cars, sending flames and black smoke shooting into the sky. This led to people questioning possible health effects, despite authorities claiming they were doing their best to protect people.

“This incident is an environmental and public health emergency that now threatens Americans across state lines,” Comer and nearly two dozen Republicans said in their letter to Buttigieg.

The environmental controversy stretched more than 1,000 miles to Texas, where a Harris County official raised questions about the transportation and disposal of toxic sewage that was being moved from the Ohio derailment site to a suburb of Houston.

District Judge Lina Hidalgo said half a million gallons of sewage from the site had been shipped to Deer Park, Texas, and another 1.5 million gallons were arriving. The wastewater was supplied to Texas Molecular, which injects hazardous waste into the ground for disposal.

Contaminated soil from the site is being trucked to a landfill near Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ohio, Gov. DeWine’s office, prompting a complaint from Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

“We have not been informed of this reported action,” said Dingell, who represents the area. She said she will be contacting the DeWine office, as well as federal and Ohio officials and Norfolk Southern “to understand what is being shipped … and how we are keeping all Michigan residents safe.”


Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this story. After the Ohio train crash, Biden orders house-to-house checks

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