9 months after derailment, Ohio residents demand answers from town

(NewsNation) — Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have written an open letter to the town’s administration, pleading for information and transparency nine months after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in the area.

Members of the town’s Unity Council wrote, asking for answers regarding money Norfolk Southern has given to the town, how the administration plans to address ongoing concerns regarding environmental contamination and more transparency around decision-making in the wake of the disaster.

The Norfolk Southern train that derailed in February included tanker cars carrying vinyl chloride. Officials conducted a controlled burn over fears the damaged cars could spontaneously explode. Residents closest to the derailment were evacuated briefly before being told it was safe to return. However, many residents have said they’re not confident it’s safe to go back home and independent testing results have indicated high levels of potentially dangerous chemicals in the area.

In the letter, members of the council asked the town to explain why the evacuation area was expanded in the days following the derailment as well as for an accounting of the money the train company has given to the town. That includes an accounting of positions created with the funds and details on the people hired to fill those roles, a list of purchases made with the money, whether town employees got raises after the derailment and a list of donations made using the money.

The residents are also asking for transparency on data that the town’s mayor has used to suggest people are ready to “move on,” as well as information on whether the town is pursuing legal action against Norfolk Southern and details about updated emergency response plans and any speed limit changes for trains passing through.

Residents have asked town leaders to be transparent about what is being done to address health concerns raised by those living in the area and demanded more detail on the process of hiring an independent scientist to address concerns about chemical contamination.

“Why did the Mayor fail to publicly announce the uptick in seizures he was seeing but instead chose to disclose the information in private asking that it not be made public? Are their other health issues being seen that residents are not being told about?” the letter asked.

The Unity Council is also asking the town to provide information on town officials’ relationships with the government and Norfolk Southern. Residents also questioned why meetings with politicians and governmental administrators are held behind closed doors, including asking why residents with ongoing health concerns were reportedly being blocked from speaking.

The letter also questioned why village officials did not attend meetings held by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also accused officials of being “argumentative” with those seeking answers.

The Unity Council asked for the town to reply by Nov. 13, saying that without questions from those living in East Palestine, people would “would all still be living here none the wiser.”

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