Biden's Late Visit to Ohio Train Derailment Site: Is He Too Little, Too Late?

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  • Source: Wayne Dupree
  • 02/16/2024
President Biden is set to visit East Palestine, Ohio, over a year after a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in the nearby community. Local authorities will update him on ongoing recovery efforts following the February 2023 incident. Residents express discontent with the federal government's response, citing health and environmental concerns.

Several hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, were present on the Norfolk Southern train, posing a potential risk of explosion. In an effort to prevent such a catastrophe, workers attempted to vent and burn off the train carriages containing vinyl chloride. It is important to note that vinyl chloride has been linked to an increased risk of neurological symptoms and various malignancies. Despite the evacuation of hundreds of residents during the venting and burning process, some individuals who returned later reported experiencing respiratory issues and rashes. Even a year later, these residents continue to suffer from health problems.
Mayor Trent Conaway extended an invitation to Mr. Biden, which he graciously accepted. This visit comes in response to criticism over Mr. Biden's delayed visit to East Palestine. Although the administration maintains that authorities were on the scene within hours of the incident, Republicans have criticized Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for delaying his visit until nearly three weeks after the accident.

The White House said that Mr. Biden would likely address the administration's efforts to hold the train operator "accountable" and emphasize that the government is meeting the needs of those impacted by the disaster during the president's visit. However, the fact that the travel to East Palestine took place a year after the disaster has already drawn criticism.

In a social media post on Wednesday, Trump stated, "It was such a tremendous pleasure to be with the people of East Palestine soon after the sad act had occurred," and he added, "Biden should have gone there a long time ago."

According to the White House, the president will also likely urge Congress to act on rail safety during his visit. Since the crash, a bipartisan rail safety law has been pending in the Senate for a considerable amount of time. It is uncertain whether there is enough Republican support for the bill to overcome a filibuster.

Rail businesses and Congress have not yet acted upon the hundreds of suggestions given by the National Transportation Safety Board's head, Jennifer Homendy, to enhance rail safety.

"We want to provide safety guidelines that will hopefully be executed right away, either legislative action, regulatory action, or operator action," Homendy said. "Then there is typically rail safety. We have released a number of rail safety recommendations that Congress may act upon right now, and I hope they do. As an example, we now have 190 open rail safety suggestions that are pending implementation.


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