Skip to content Skip to footer

Norfolk Southern Skips Public Meeting on Toxic Train Derailment in Ohio

Many say they distrust officials, who told residents the air and water were safe last Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of East Palestine, Ohio, packed into their first town hall meeting Wednesday night after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed and a “controlled” burn sent a mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals into the air. Many said they distrusted the train operator Norfolk Southern and their elected officials, who told residents the air and water were safe last Wednesday. We get an update from Emily Wright, development director for River Valley Organizing, which is working with residents to call for justice-centered healing.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh. Hundreds of residents in East Palestine, Ohio, packed into their first town hall meeting Wednesday night after a Bomb Train carrying hazardous materials derailed there last week and a so-called controlled burn sent a mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals blended with fire and smoke into the air. The EPA said chemicals were released “to air, surface oils and surface waters.” Norfolk Southern backed out of the town hall meeting. EPA Chief Michael Regan is visiting East Palestine today as residents want the incident to be declared a federal emergency.

Emily Wright is with us again, with River Valley Organizing, for an update from Columbiana County, Ohio, a few miles from the derailment and explosion at East Palestine. We spoke to you earlier this week. Can you talk about what happened last night? Norfolk Southern did not come to address the people. What is happening right now? People are terrified as they see thousands of fish, of frogs dead and yet the authorities are saying the water, the air is safe.

EMILY WRIGHT: Thank you so much. I just want to thank your program for the coverage that you have done. We really appreciate it. Yes, things have been rapidly evolving over the last 48 hours. As you know, Norfolk Southern put out a statement they were not coming to the meeting. They cited their employees’ safety. They made to our local news station a statement that said that they were concerned that residents would basically cause physical harm to their employees, and so they weren’t going to come. I have not seen or heard one threat physically of violence or anything against Norfolk Southern. The only thing I’ve heard is that people want to know what is going on.

People were angry as the forum kept changing. First it was a town hall where elected officials were going to be there, even from the state and federal representation, that questions were going to be answered over a couple-hour period. That changed to being like an open house with tables where people could come ask questions if they wanted. Honestly, without Norfolk Southern being there, a lot of people’s questions weren’t answered.

We found out over the last 48 hours that there are several cities south of the site that are experiencing chemicals in their water, two of which—the butyl—I’m going to pronounce it wrong—but one of the chemicals in particular was in Steubenville, Ohio’s water. They are an hour south, like over 60 miles south of East Palestine. Toronto, Ohio, the same, south of them. In Moundsville, West Virginia, which is in the panhandle, they had pictures of the river turning turquoise from the chemicals. So, the fallout is really beginning to happen.

The instructions were very vague from each city. They basically said they think the levels are low and they think the water is safe. That they think. People closer, like around where I am and in East Palestine, have been told to drink bottled water. I fortunately work with a lot of people that have dealt with this and the first thing they told me to do was buy bottled water when this happened, before even the controlled release. So, residents are understandably angry, upset.

Norfolk Southern just came out this morning on our local news program, and an employee was interviewed and we found out that the train that derailed in East Palestine was broke down in Madison, Illinois, on February 1st. And they believe the train was broke down because the contents were too heavy that it was carrying. Norfolk Southern apparently was warned by employees that that train was too heavy and something like this could happen. So they were having issues with the train anyway.

We know the EPA director is coming down today to the site because he wants to encourage that everything is going status quo. But again, like we’ve said time and time again for almost two weeks, we were told only about air, that it was safe. Water, soil and surface was basically told it was—you know, surface wasn’t being done, water and soil was, but it’s ongoing, and that people—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds. Your final comment?

EMILY WRIGHT: —people were let back in their homes. So, we really need a federal emergency to be declared. Our governor, DeWine, we absolutely need him, when he talks to President Biden’s administration today or tomorrow, to tell them that we need FEMA in here. There are short-term and long-term effects that will be some of the gravest that this nation has ever seen in a train derailment.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Wright, we’re going to continue to follow this story, Development Director for River Valley Organizing in Ohio, speaking to us from Portsmouth, Ohio, just next to East Palestine, where the train derailment took place. The train was two miles long with toxic chemicals.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, Maria Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff. I’m Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

Briefly, we wanted to update you on where Truthout stands this month.

To be brutally honest, Truthout is behind on our fundraising goals for the year. There are a lot of reasons why. We’re dealing with broad trends in our industry, trends that have led publications like Vice, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic to make painful cuts. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of inflation. And despite its lasting importance, news readership is declining.

To ensure we stay out of the red by the end of the year, we have a long way to go. Our future is threatened.

We’ve stayed online over two decades thanks to the support of our readers. Because you believe in the power of our work, share our transformative stories, and give to keep us going strong, we know we can make it through this tough moment.

Our fundraising campaign ends tonight at midnight, and we still must raise $14,000. Please consider making a donation before time runs out.