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Biden admin seeks to reassure public after toxic US train derailment

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Smoke rises over a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 4, 2023./AFP
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Feb 17, 2023 - 09:27 AM

WASHINGTON — 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.”

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.”

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.

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