Ohio Senators Want East Palestine Derailment Declared Public Health Emergency

East Palestine, Ohio. (Courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

(The Center Square) – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, both from Ohio, want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decide if the hazardous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio nearly eight months ago qualifies as a public health emergency.

Brown, a Democrat, and Vance, a Republican, joined in a letter to ask for the determination that could allow Ohioans impacted by the derailment and chemical exposure to receive Medicare coverage and have access to long-term medical care.

“The long-term environmental and public health impact of this exposure on residents remains unknown and may not become apparent for years to come,” the two wrote in a letter to the EPA. “No affected resident of East Palestine or its surrounding communities should have to worry about affording necessary health care, now or in the future.”

On Sept. 20, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that White House officials said would protect the people of East Palestine and the surrounding area and continue to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the Feb. 3 derailment and chemical release.

That order requires the EPA to designate a coordinator to oversee long-term recovery efforts and assess needs not met by the rail company that would qualify for federal assistance.

That order also keeps the state’s July request from Gov. Mike DeWine for a disaster declaration open, allowing FEMA to recommend a declaration later.

Brown and Vance want the EPA to use the executive order and a 1980 law to study if the derailment is a public health emergency.

“If applicable, such a determination could provide residents of East Palestine with much-needed, additional resources, including Medicare coverage, as they cope with the lingering impacts of this preventable, man-made crisis by Norfolk Southern,” the two wrote.

As previously reported by The Center Square, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the derailment on an overheated wheel bearing. There were no injuries from the crash.

The derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line was largely out of the spotlight for nearly two weeks. A controlled burn Feb. 6, and social media buzz after Valentine’s Day sparked more interest with previously silent politicians weighing in heavily.

— J.D. Davidson, The Center Square

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