Biden to visit Ohio town a year after toxic train derailment

By Thomson Reuters Feb 16, 2024 | 5:08 AM

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to East Palestine, Ohio, on Friday for the first time since a fiery derailment of a Norfolk Southern train a year ago released more than a million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants.

Republicans and some local residents have criticized Biden for not visiting earlier. The accident forced residents to abandon their homes and many people have since suffered from rashes, breathing problems and other ailments.

“What you will see is a president that goes out there, whether it’s a red state, blue state, rural America, urban America, to hear, to make sure he is a president for all, especially when they are dealing with this awful, awful event that happened specifically in this community,” said White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre.

When asked if Biden would drink the water in the community, she told reporters on Thursday: “The president has no concerns with drinking water in East Palestine.”

Former President Donald Trump, expected to be Biden’s 2024 presidential rival, traveled to the small town near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania about two weeks after the incident and called the federal response a betrayal.

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, a conservative who does not support Biden, extended the invitation to the Democratic president, saying the visit will be good for his community.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has yet to submit a final report, has said 38 cars derailed on Feb. 3, 2023 and a fire damaged another dozen train cars. Residents on both sides of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border were ordered to evacuate because of the derailment and release of toxic chemicals.

A bipartisan bill to toughen rail-safety laws – advanced by Ohio Senators J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Democrat Sherrod Brown – has stalled on Capitol Hill. Biden is expected to urge Congress to pass the measure during his visit to East Palestine.

Norfolk Southern has estimated it will cost the company more than $800 million to clean up the hazardous chemicals, help the community rebuild and respond to lawsuits.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)