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A coordinator appointed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will oversee long-term recovery efforts in East Palestine after the train derailment and chemical spill left the community struggling with cleanup and the monitoring of water, soil and air eight months later.
Wednesday's executive order by President Joe Biden directing FEMA to appoint a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator also includes steps to ensure Norfolk Southern Railroad continues to meet its obligations to remedy the damage caused Feb. 3, when about 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash.
East Palestine train derailment: Toxic chemicals being burned off in 'controlled release'
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called the order "overdue but welcome."
“There is still much more work to do to make this community whole and I will continue to push the administration to deliver for East Palestine and hold Norfolk Southern accountable," he said.
U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, called on the House to pass a railroad safety reform measure she has introduced.
"Thankfully, President Biden announced additional actions today to help ensure residents of East Palestine can access critical federal resources that will aid their recovery, but Congress still must act. Americans can’t wait any longer — we must pass the Rail Act now to protect communities across the nation from future train derailments.”
The Rail Act, which would require updated safety rules and increased inspections of trains among other changes, is supported by 11 out of Ohio's 15 representatives.
Executive order directions for FEMA
Under Biden's executive order, the federal disaster recovery coordinator is directed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of any unmet needs that are not addressed by Norfolk Southern and would qualify for federal assistance. The coordinator is also directed to collaborate with the federal, state and local governments, the private sector and voluntary, faith-based and community organizations supporting the recovery.
If FEMA receives new information from Ohio, including needs that are not being addressed by Norfolk Southern, the executive order directs FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to submit a recommendation on whether the state's request for a major disaster declaration is warranted.
EPA to continue monitoring cleanup, issue report
Under the executive order, the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to direct removal of contaminated soils and wastewater from the derailment site and will ensure that any remaining contamination in surface stream sediments is addressed, and that air and water monitoring continue.
The executive order also directs the agency to prepare a report on the status of air, soil, and water monitoring and whether Norfolk Southern continues to comply with the Federal Unilateral Administrative Order to address the imminent and substantial endangerment caused by the company’s derailment. Updated reports are required every 60 days until the cleanup and monitoring requirements are completed.
Public health assessment, assistance ordered
The Health and Human Services Administration has been given 60 days to prepare a report summarizing key conclusions from the public health testing and assessment conducted to date, and what resources HHS and the CDC have provided to address any health conditions related to the derailment.
HHS is directed to continue working with Ohio and Pennsylvania in monitoring the public health consequences of the derailment, including to determine whether any acute medical conditions develop. If such medical conditions develop, HHS and EPA will each evaluate whether a public health emergency should be declared. It is also directed to work with the states should either or both consider submitting a proposal for services through the Medicaid program for individuals affected by the derailment.
Department of Transportation directed to outline response
The U.S. Department of Transportation has 60 days to issue a report detailing the actions the Department is taking in response to the disaster. This report will be updated within 120 days of the final National Transportation Safety Board investigation, and DOT will provide the president a preliminary set of follow-on actions to ensure accountability.
Eric Marotta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Biden issues order addressing East Palestine train derailment recovery