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'We have heard you': Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, EPA administrator give update on East Palestine train derailment, drink municipal water

Former President Donald Trump and activist Erin Brockovich are also scheduled to visit East Palestine later this week.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A busy week of visitors to the scene of the East Palestine train derailment began on Tuesday as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine took part in a briefing with the latest on the status of the cleanup.

Joining DeWine at the 12:30 p.m. briefing were U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH). Regan kicked off the press briefing by announcing that the EPA is ordering Norfolk Southern to clean up the aftermath of the derailment.

"I want the community to know that we have heard you, and that we need to keep hearing from you," Regan said. "As much as out support on the ground will continue to be needed, we also need you. However long it takes, we're going to work to earn your trust."

The railroad began running trains over the line again almost immediately after the evacuation order was lifted, something Mayor Trent Conaway expressed frustrations with weeks ago. Officials are concerned chemicals could still be in the soil underneath the tracks, and the EPA order addresses that.

"That soil will be removed," DeWine said, "so the tracks will have to be taken up, and that soil will have to be removed."

State and federal officials have continued to say the village's air and municipal drinking water are safe, despite concerns from residents. On Tuesday, both DeWine and Regan publicly drank water from a home's tap in an effort to show confidence in their data.

"This village water is safe," DeWine declared again today. "How do we know that? We know that because it has been tested. But we're going to continue to test, so the Ohio EPA will continue to test once a week going forward."

Tuesday also marks the day that the Ohio Department of Health will open its new Health Assessment Clinic in East Palestine, giving local residents a chance to discuss medical concerns and receive a medical evaluation. Nurses, mental health specialists, and toxicologists will see patients at First Church of Christ.

"This is a clinic anyone, free of charge, can go do," DeWine said. "People want to be able to go some place and get some answers about any kind of medical problem that they believe they are, in fact, having."

On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump plans to visit the area. In preparation for Trump's appearance, East Palestine City Schools announced that they will be closed on Wednesday due to "heightened security measures" and the "significant number of street closures."

Friday, activist Erin Brockovich will hold a town hall in East Palestine, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says he will visit "at some point." DeWine also says he has spoken President Joe Biden and received assurances of federal assistance, but residents in the village are still expressing their frustration with the current administration.

"You have President Biden, who's in the Ukraine," Courtney Miller told 3News' Bri Buckley. "Meanwhile, we here in East Palestine are suffering."

The wreck occurred on Feb. 3, when the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks and caught fire. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the train was going between Madison, Illinois and Conway, Pennsylvania, passing through Cleveland prior to derailing in Columbiana County. 

Due to the potential for an explosion, officials evacuated everyone within a one-mile radius and conducted a "controlled release" of hazardous chemicals. Although residents were cleared to return home just days following the release, there continue to be health and safety concerns.

Miller said she is pushing for more to be done and questioned what's in the water in the creek behind her home. She shared a video with 3News that shows what appears to be chemicals coming to the surface after she stirs up the water.

"It's not even just the color it's the smell, it smells like a metallic horrible smell," Miller said.

Ohio's U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance are calling on the EPA to monitor East Palestine for dioxins, which are high toxic pollutants.

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