News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden visits East Palestine a year after a train derailment changed the Ohio town

President Biden talks with East Palestine, Ohio Mayor Trent Conaway during a tour of the site where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed a year ago.
Andrew Harnik
/
AP
President Biden talks with East Palestine, Ohio Mayor Trent Conaway during a tour of the site where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed a year ago.

President Biden visited the small Ohio town of East Palestine on Friday, a little more than a year after a Norfolk Southern train derailed there and spilled hazardous chemicals.

After meeting with local officials and getting a briefing from the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden promised residents that the U.S. government would fulfill its obligation and remain in the area until the clean-up efforts were complete.

He praised the community's courage and resilience. He insisted the derailment will not define them. And he blasted Norfolk Southern for not taking proper precautions with its dangerous cargo.

"Let me be clear. While there are acts of God, this was an act of greed that was 100% preventable," he said.

No one died in the Feb. 3 derailment, but soon people started feeling sick and reported experiencing headaches and other concerns. It led to increased worries and fears of long-term health risks.

"We've tested the air, the water, the soil quality," Biden said, noting ongoing research to study the short- and long-term impacts of the spill.

President Biden takes a sip of water during a stop at a candle shop in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 16, 2024.
Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden takes a sip of water during a stop at a candle shop in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 16, 2024.

The derailment quickly became political

Biden had promised to visit soon after the derailment and has faced criticism for not visiting sooner, especially from Republicans, including former President Donald Trump who made a trip to the community shortly after the disaster.

Biden emphasized, as he often does, that his administration works for all Americans, whether they vote for him or not.

Biden met with local affected residents and officials, including Trent Conaway, the town's mayor, who had been critical of Biden. On Friday, Conaway noted that the visit had been "long awaited" and said he wanted to focus on "things we agree with" such as the long-term health concerns for the town, and its economic health.

"We will not be defined by this single event, rather by our response to it and our perseverance," Conaway said.

Biden promised to hold the train operator accountable.

"My administration ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the mess it created and ensure it was done right," he said. "That includes an executive order I signed to continue our priority to hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for this disaster and any long term effects that are able to be identified as time goes on."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

President Biden receives a briefing from officials on the continuing response and recovery efforts at the site of a train derailment which spilled hazardous chemicals a year ago in East Palestine, Ohio.
Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden receives a briefing from officials on the continuing response and recovery efforts at the site of a train derailment which spilled hazardous chemicals a year ago in East Palestine, Ohio.

Tags
Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.