The US government on Tuesday took control of the response to the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this month.
The Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the response to the 3 February derailment, and on Tuesday ordered rail operator Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminated soil and water at the site and to attend all public meetings with local residents.
Although no fatalities or injuries have been reported, residents have been demanding answers about health risks and blaming Norfolk Southern, state and federal officials for a lack of information regarding the crash. Distrust has been growing among residents who have complained they have been getting mixed messages on safety.
The order requires Norfolk Southern to submit a work plan for EPA approval for the clean-up associated with the derailment that caused a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the town.
The derailment forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off chemicals
“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on Tuesday.
EPA issued the order under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives it the authority to force parties responsible for pollution to clean it up.
Regan made a second trip on Tuesday to East Palestine, the derailment site.
The EPA will require the company to reimburse the agency for any cleaning services it offers residents and businesses and to participate in public meetings and post information online.
Residents were angry last week when the railway operator did not attend a town hall meeting.
A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency is taking this action now because things have shifted to the emergency phase to the remediation phase.
The agency will also create a “unified command structure” to coordinate the clean-up related efforts alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), the Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio EPA, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Norfolk Southern.
Reuters contributed to this report
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