President Biden to visit East Palestine, Ohio in February

 One year ago, on February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, jeopardizing the community’s safety and sense of normalcy. Since the derailment, the Biden-Harris Administration has mobilized a comprehensive, whole-of-government response to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio, affected communities in Pennsylvania, and other impacted communities. In February, President Biden will travel to East Palestine, Ohio, to meet with residents impacted by the Norfolk Southern train derailment, discuss Federal support to the community, and hold Norfolk Southern accountable.
Under President Biden’s leadership, within hours of the derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deployed a team of trained emergency response personnel to East Palestine to aid state and local emergency and environmental response efforts. The Department of Transportation (DOT) also arrived on scene within hours to support the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in their independent investigation of the derailment. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked alongside state and local health departments to conduct public health testing and offer technical assistance. Throughout the response and recovery process, the Administration has continued to closely coordinate with the Ohio Governor, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Health and local partners, including the Village of East Palestine and Columbiana County.
As President Biden has said from the beginning, the Administration will continue to support the people of East Palestine and other affected communities for as long as it takes, including by using every available tool to hold Norfolk Southern accountable. President Biden pledged he would make Norfolk Southern clean up its mess in East Palestine, and his Administration is delivering. Last February, EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up all environmental damage caused by the derailment, including cleaning or disposing of contaminated soil and water, as well as reimbursing the Federal government’s response costs. In September, President Biden issued an Executive Order directing that Norfolk Southern continue to be held accountable for the derailment and address any long-term effects on the community, and to ensure Federal assistance is available to affected communities should needs develop that are not met by Norfolk Southern.
At the same time, the Administration has taken action to improve rail safety and continues to call on Congress to do its part by passing the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to the people of East Palestine, impacted communities in Pennsylvania, and other affected communities, and to holding Norfolk Southern accountable, with each Federal agency playing a critical role in the long-term recovery effort:
Environmental Protection Agency

  • Holding Norfolk Southern Accountable. On February 21, 2023, EPA issued a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) unilateral administrative order holding Norfolk Southern accountable to clean up the mess it created. Since then, EPA has directed and overseen the extensive cleanup activities conducted by Norfolk Southern.

    On October 18, 2023, EPA issued an Administrative Order under the Clean Water Act to Norfolk Southern requiring the company to remove sediments in culverted areas of Sulphur Run stream, and to further delineate, characterize, and, as necessary, remove oil and hazardous substances from the sediments in Leslie and Sulphur Run streams. Sediment and sheen sampling efforts required by the Order are complete, and cleanup is complete in four of five culverts. Additional cleanup in Sulphur and Leslie Runs will begin in early 2024.
  • Ensuring the Cleanup is Done Right. The EPA coordinated the oversight of Norfolk Southern’s soil remediation of the derailment site. The remediation included testing of the soils within and immediately surrounding the impacted areas for hazardous materials, and ensuring the site is cleaned up to meet Federal and state regulations.

    On October 30, 2023, excavation of contaminated soil from the derailment site was completed, reaching one of the most significant goals of the cleanup. Ultimately, more than 176,000 tons (more than 350 million pounds) of contaminated soil were excavated and transported out of East Palestine for appropriate disposal. The final site-wide confirmation soil sampling effort – a final doublecheck to ensure that the cleanup has been fully successful, and that no contamination has spread due to cleanup activities – is underway and will continue through mid-2024.

    Additionally, CERCLA hazardous substances have not impacted water in surface streams since mid-May. Weekly drinking water samples from the municipal water system and over 1,200 private well samples have consistently shown no impacts from the derailment and municipal water continues to meet drinking water safety standards.
  • Monitoring Air Quality. Since the derailment, EPA has collected more than 115 million air monitoring data points and more than 45,000 samples (air, water and soil) in and around the community. No sustained air monitoring readings or analytical results for the contaminants of concern (vinyl chloride, n-butyl acrylate, and over 70 additional monitored chemicals) have been found above action levels established for the site since the evacuation order was lifted on February 8, 2023. Air monitoring in the community continues as appropriate at site activities to assure protection of the community. Ongoing science-based monitoring continues to show that residents of East Palestine are not at risk from impacted surface water, soil, or air from the derailment.
  • Supporting the Local Community. Engagement with the surrounding communities and with State and local leaders continues to be a priority for EPA. Representatives from Ohio EPA, the Village of East Palestine and Columbiana County are members of the Unified Command for the cleanup. In addition, Ohio EPA is actively involved with assisting with oversight of the cleanup, primarily with groundwater, potable water, streams, on-site wastewater treatment and final soil sampling efforts. EPA’s Welcome Center in downtown East Palestine remains open and available to answer questions from residents by appointment. Residents can still call the information line or send an email to talk to a representative during business hours. To ensure the affected communities are receiving the most up-to-date information as rapidly as possible, the EPA updates its website on cleanup progress several times each week; hosts recurring community stakeholder meetings to communicate and actively listen to community concerns; and keeps the community informed through the regular print newsletter, now published on a monthly basis, that reaches around 9,000 homes. EPA remains committed to the people of East Palestine and surrounding area, to the successful completion of the cleanup, and to the revitalization of the community.
  • Prioritizing Chemical Safety. On December 14, 2023, EPA announced it began the process of prioritizing vinyl chloride, one of the primary chemicals of concern involved in the derailment, for a risk evaluation under the nation’s premier chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Department of Transportation

  • Investigating the Cause of the Derailment.  The NTSB, which is independent of the DOT, is leading the investigation into the cause of the derailment. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) within DOT were on site within hours of the derailment and continue to support the NTSB-led investigation.
  • Creating a Safer Rail System. In 2023, DOT deployed a historic level of funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to modernize and upgrade fail infrastructure. Grants through programs including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program, the new Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) program, and Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program to support both passenger and freight rail projects, including track improvements, bridge replacements and rehabilitations, highway-rail grade crossing eliminations, upgrades on routes carrying hazardous materials, and more.  In June 2023, through the first-ever RCE grants, DOT awarded $570 million to 32 states to eliminate or improve more than 400 at-grade crossings nationwide — making our roads and railways safer, while also helping countless Americans save time on their commutes.  In September 2023, DOT awarded more than $1.4 billion in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grants to 70 projects to make passenger and freight rail safer – the largest investment ever through the program.
  • Ensuring Compliance with Rail Safety Regulations.  The FRA initiated multiple inspection programs in 2023 that were focused on tank cars and routes transporting large amounts of hazardous materials. FRA completed a focused inspection and investigation of over 40,000 freight cars, 76,888 miles of track, and thousands of wayside detectors on 28 different railroads. Wayside detectors are devices that are fixed near tracks to scan passing trains for defects. FRA is taking action based on these findings, and the inspections completed are prompting railroads to take corrective actions to increase safety. FRA also conducted a safety assessment of Norfolk Southern’s safety practices, pressed for improvements, and is in the process of conducting comprehensive assessments of the safety culture, practices, and regulatory compliance of each Class I railroad.
  • Protecting First Responders. PHMSA invested more than $30 million to support firefighters, and local hazardous materials safety planning and response efforts. Thousands of responders nationwide have received training thanks to this program, including 2,500+ responders in 137 different locations in Ohio. PHMSA also proposed a new rule to require railroads to always maintain — and update in real-time — accurate, electronic information about rail hazmat shipments that would be accessible to authorized emergency response personnel. Railroads would also be required to proactively share that information to authorized local first response personnel as soon as the railroad is aware of an accident involving any hazardous materials.  
  • Supporting Rail Workers: Before the Biden-Harris Administration, most workers didn’t have paid sick leave and instead kept working, which is a safety issue. The Administration has pressed railroads to provide paid sick leave – and now over 88% of Class I freight rail workers do. Last week, FRA issued a Final Rule requiring railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus to train crews and other employees when transporting certain hazardous materials. And last year, DOT called on the Class 1 freight railroads to join the Confidential Close Call System. Since that call, Norfolk Southern became the first to participate with about 1,000 of its employees, and DOT continues to press all others to join the program so all rail workers can report issues without fear of reprisal.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

  • Following the derailment, FEMA provided immediate technical and operational assistance to EPA, Federal partners and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, including providing incident management expertise and community outreach support to the multi-agency response and recovery effort. At its peak, FEMA had 70 full-time and reserve staff on the ground in East Palestine to support the effort.
  • Pursuant to President Biden’s Executive Order, FEMA designated a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator, who arrived on the ground within days to oversee the long-term recovery efforts in East Palestine.  The Coordinator continues to work with local officials, State and Federal partners, and Norfolk Southern to address the community’s enduring concerns related to the derailment.  The Coordinator will provide a comprehensive Federal assessment regarding any needs not met by Norfolk Southern using inputs gathered from the community itself and Federal partners. The Coordinator meets regularly with representatives from the Village Council, County Emergency Management, and Federal partners with the intent of delivering on the Biden-Harris Administration’s promise to support the full recovery of the East Palestine community and its residents.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The health and well-being of those impacted by the derailment is an ongoing priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. As required by President Biden’s Executive Order, HHS will provide technical assistance to the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania in the event that either State considers submitting a proposal for services through the Medicaid program for individuals affected by the derailment, such as an experimental, pilot, or demonstration project. In coordination with the affected States, HHS will continue to monitor the public health consequences of the derailment, including any long-term health issues in the affected communities.

  • Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
    • ASPR developed detailed recommendations on strategies to address the behavioral health impact of the derailment on the East Palestine community and provided these written recommendations to the Responsible Party at the request of FEMA. In December 2023, disaster behavioral health (DBH) and disaster recovery SME’s from ASPR’s Office of Response met with the FEMA’s Federal Coordinator and representatives of the Responsible Party to brief on the recommendations, which are evidence-informed based on the current state of science about the effects of technological disasters on population behavioral health and are actionable but require funding from the Responsible Party.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
    • CDC/ATSDR deployed a public health team to East Palestine on February 20, 2023, to provide additional technical assistance at the request of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Health Departments. The team provided support in the following areas: the Assessment of Chemical Exposure (ACE) investigation for residents and first responders; health communications coordination; partner coordination; and environmental data technical assistance. CDC/ATSDR Region 3 and 5 directors continue to participate in bi-weekly Public Health Unit calls with EPA, Ohio Department of Health, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Columbiana County Health Department and continue to provide relevant updates to State and local partners as well as answers to health questions from regulatory partners and the public. 
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

    • CMS, through the Center for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), has engaged with the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania to offer support and assistance following the train derailment through the Medicaid program. Following that engagement, Ohio submitted, and CMS approved, a State Plan Amendment (SPA) to implement a policy to help preserve Medicaid eligibility for individuals impacted by the train derailment. Specifically, the SPA ensured that, effective April 1, 2023, any compensation paid by Norfolk Southern to individuals affected by the accident would be disregarded from their income for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid. CMS remains in regular contact with both states regarding the operation of their Medicaid programs.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

    • Beginning March 13, 2023, the FDA initiated an Incident Management Group (IMG) to respond to the train derailment, which included representatives from the agency’s human and animal foods programs. The IMG cooperated closely with the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Unified Command Group leading the response, state and local entities, academia and regulated industry in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The IMG analyzed relevant data and information on chemical food safety hazards, including the release of vinyl chloride, reviewed results of soil samples, and confirmed the disposition or destruction of food products involved in the incident. FDA reviewed the results of soil samples collected and analyzed by EPA, Norfolk Southern, and the State of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for semi-volatile organic compounds.
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

    • In the aftermath of the, train derailment, HRSA took action to support two neighboring community health centers, Community Action Agency of Columbiana (CAAC), in Lisbon, Ohio, and Primary Health Network (PHN), in Sharon, Pennsylvania, as they stepped in to deliver primary care services to address unmet need and supplement the efforts of local providers. On March 3, 2023, HRSA provided CAAC with $250,000 in emergency funding to provide screening and supportive services via their mobile unit in partnership with a local community partner, First Church of Christ. The one-time funding allowed CAAC to conduct outreach, purchase medical supplies, and staff the mobile unit with key health care personnel, including nurse practitioners, medical assistants, and administrative support staff who provided toxic chemical screenings, mental health assessments and referrals, case management, and housing referrals.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) / National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
    • In November 2023, NIEHS, with support from CDC/ATSDR, commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to hold a two-day public workshop on community questions and concerns about chemical exposures and health impacts in East Palestine. NIEHS also published a rapid scoping review of chemicals of interest to the derailment to assess available health effects information. 
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
    • Following the train derailment, SAMHSA met and coordinated with officials in both Ohio and Pennsylvania regarding support for impacted residents in both states.
    • In particular, with technical assistance from SAMHSA, both states applied for and were awarded a SAMHSA Emergency Response Grant which will support the immediate and ongoing behavioral health needs of the community related to the initial incident and subsequent traumatic experiences, help minimize the long-term impacts and foster resilience in the community, and expand and enhance the capacity of local crisis response systems to ensure adequate and effective intervention in situations of crisis.
    • The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in partnership with the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, was awarded $1,088,911 to address major behavioral health issues identified by the community because of the February 3 train derailment.
    • The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, Beaver County Behavioral Health, and representatives from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency were awarded $47,488 to address major behavioral health issues identified by the community because of the February 3 train derailment/chemical spill.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • USDA Rural Development obligated $500,000 in Rural Business Development Grant award funding to create a low-interest revolving loan fund for businesses in East Palestine, Ohio. USDA also added the Village of East Palestine as an eligible community on an existing Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) award.


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