President Joe Biden has scheduled to visit East Palestine, Ohio, this Friday, fulfilling his pledge to tour the site of the Norfolk Southern train derailment that caused a release of toxic chemicals into the environment more than a year ago.
The decision to visit comes amid criticism from Republicans for the President’s delay in visiting the community following the environmental disaster that occurred on February 3, 2023.
According to an advisory from the White House, President Biden’s visit will focus on discussing the Administration’s ongoing efforts to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and to provide support to the community as it recovers from the incident. The derailment, which involved dozens of cars carrying toxic chemicals, prompted authorities to conduct a controversial controlled burn, resulting in plumes of black smoke over the area.
The release of carcinogenic substances, including dioxins and over 100,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, poses significant health risks to residents. Long-term effects such as liver damage and cancer are among the concerns raised due to exposure to these hazardous chemicals. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has reported leaks of four other toxic chemicals during the derailment.
East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a Republican, extended an invitation to President Biden to visit the town, located approximately an hour’s drive west of Pittsburgh. While the White House confirmed Biden’s intention to visit in February, the exact date was not publicly announced until now.
Former President Donald Trump visited East Palestine shortly after the derailment, providing support to first responders and community members. Some Democrats, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have criticized Trump’s rail deregulations during his presidency.
Despite previous comments from Biden about the challenges of scheduling a visit to East Palestine amid other pressing matters, the President is expected to address the concerns of residents during his visit. The White House emphasized Biden’s commitment to supporting the community and ensuring that affected individuals and businesses receive the necessary assistance.
Following the spill, lawmakers have proposed legislation, such as the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, aimed at improving rail safety standards. However, progress on such legislation has stalled, leaving communities like East Palestine vulnerable to similar incidents in the future.