East Palestine residents vent frustrations at meeting

EAST PALESTINE — East Palestine area residents vented their frustrations Thursday night, yelling at officials from state and federal agencies and Norfolk Southern during a public meeting on cleanup efforts.

“Don’t lie to us,” one man shouted as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Administrator Debra Shore said no toxins had been detected in the air since Feb. 8.

Other speakers during the public forum included U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta; Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel; Capt. Jill Shugart, team lead for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; U.S EPA regional response coordinator Mark Durno; U.S. EPA Region 3 Administrator Adam Ortiz; and Norfolk Southern representative Darrell Wilson.

“We are very sorry for what happened. We feel horrible about it,” Wilson said, telling people who were peppering him with questions that “we’re gonna do the right thing.”

He said that the work to remove the tracks and remove the contaminated dirt at the crash site may start as early as today, doing one side at a time. Shore and Durno both addressed the remediation plan and said approval of the railroad’s plan was imminent.

The speakers updated the people on the testing of both the air and water, the creek cleanup, the order for the railroad to test for dioxins and the health survey being done on chemical effects to residents and to first responders.

Some of the exchanges became heated, with many residents shouting questions from their seats, or booing or giving the officials a hard time.

Resident Jamie Cozza accused Mayor Trent Conaway of not returning her calls and asked: “Why are people getting sick if there are no toxins?”

“The reality is, we have to get out,” lifelong resident Joshua Figley said.

Some of the other questions from residents ranged from a man asking if he can grow a garden to whether Norfolk Southern would be willing to buy out his property.

Spencer Gallo, who resides in Pennsylvania, talked about dioxins and the need to have a comprehensive plan — and also said there are too many conflicts of interest with who Norfolk Southern has doing some of the work.

He said Norfolk Southern should pay, but the EPA should find a third-party to do all the testing.

The public meeting was held in the auditorium, which was not a packed house. In the gym, people had a chance to talk one-on-one with representatives of the various agencies during a resource fair.

Vogel urged people to attend an open house planned at the East Palestine water treatment plant Saturday morning and also noted that monitoring wells will be installed near the tracks.

What was evident, though, was that many residents still don’t trust what they’re being told and have a lot of concerns about the health issues they’re experiencing. They weren’t happy when told that results of surveys for chemical exposure wouldn’t be ready for at least three weeks.

“Norfolk Southern is a Goliath and we’re no match,” one woman said.


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