"The NTSB is returning to East Palestine for our final board meeting for the same reasons we went last summer," Homendy said in a news release. "Because the communities most affected by this tragedy deserve to hear our findings in-person and in real-time."
According to NTSB's official account of the accident, an eastbound Norfolk Southern train had a derailment of rail cars on its main track in East Palestine. The derailed equipment included 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials that soon ignited, fueling fires that damaged another 12 nonderailed rail cars. First responders implemented a 1-mile evacuation zone surrounding the derailment site that affected up to 2,000 residents. There were no reported fatalities or injuries.
NTSB held a two-day investigative hearing in June in East Palestine. The board has released in the accident docket more than 1,800 pages of information, including reports and interview transcripts.
President Joe Biden will visit East Palestine later this month to meet with residents about federal support, which has been ongoing since the derailment took place.
More recently, Atlanta-based NS on Feb. 9 ended temporary relocation assistance to residents who relocated during the excavation. The firm has completed major excavation and soil removal related to the derailment. The most intensive site remediation work was completed at the end of October 2023.
The decision to end relocation assistance isn't sitting well with all in the area. In a recent email to Plastics News, a spokesperson for an independent local community oversight board said residents of surrounding communities "continue to remain unhoused, lack vital answers on how dangerous the area remains and face the impending cutoff of financial assistance despite the aftermath of this disaster continuing to upend their lives."
The spokesperson for the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment Community added that a number of residents who are still living in hotels or outside their homes "were blindsided by this news and feel Norfolk Southern is attempting to wash their hands of the situation."
Local residents also have concerns about the village potentially putting derailment wastewater into the municipal water system, the spokesperson added.
A recent report from National Public Radio and a recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer included comments from area residents who are concerned about air and water safety and also from those who feel safe and want to move on from the incident.
As I wrote earlier for PN, I'm from that part of Ohio and even walked across the train tracks involved in the derailment a few times as a kid. I have relatives in East Palestine who have lived there for many years. East Palestine is a small town of about 5,000 people whose population literally hasn't changed much in the last 100 years.
My relatives in East Palestine stayed there after the derailment and are doing OK. They live outside of the area where residents were required to evacuate. Part of their street was blocked off, but not the part where they live. They've had no medical reactions to the air and water in the area.
For its part, NS has spent more than $20 million in direct aid to families and committed more than $100 million in long-term improvements to East Palestine. Some national and local critics have said NS is doing so to buy the loyalty of local residents and to prevent future lawsuits against the firm.