EAST PALESTINE, Ohio—On the eve of President Joe Biden’s first visit to East Palestine more than one year after a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed and spilled hazardous chemicals, most residents of his eastern Ohio village echoed the same sentiment— that the trip is too late and is motivated by insincere reasons.

The White House, which initially announced President Biden’s visit on Jan. 31, said in a statement on Feb. 15 that the president “will receive a briefing from officials on the continuing response and recovery efforts and meet with members of the community. He will reaffirm his commitment to ensuring the people of East Palestine are not defined by this single event, and that his administration is delivering on the needs of affected families, businesses, and residents.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Feb. 15 that “this is a trip that he’s been wanting to make and wanted to make sure that it was the right time to do.”
The derailment happened on Feb. 3, 2023. President Biden is scheduled to meet with residents and community leaders on Feb. 16.

“I am glad President Biden is finally following through with his promise to come to East Palestine, but I don’t want this to be a political stunt and photo opportunity since it’s an election year,” Misti Allison—a mother of two who lives with her husband, Aaron, in East Palestine—told The Epoch Times.

DJ Yokley, an East Palestine business owner, wonders why it took so long for President Biden to visit and indicated that his arrival is motivated by the election.

“The American people have awakened to realize that the leader of our country did not show up to the greatest catastrophe of 2023. And now he’s going to show up because it is an election year,” Mr. Yokley told Fox & Friends.

President Biden “better have a wagon full of answers and a wagon full of good news for us because otherwise, why are you coming at this point? Why are you showing your face if not just to try to sway votes and try to get back in office?”

“It’s a scenario where we know what he’s doing,” Mr. Yokley continued. “The American people see it, and now it’s ‘Hey, we have to go visit East Palestine because we haven’t done it yet, and check it off the books.”

Until the derailment, most Americans had never heard of East Palestine, a village of 4,700 that’s about a mile from the Pennsylvania border.

Around 9 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train carrying 151 cars derailed. Hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, in some of the rail cars spilled onto the ground and into the air.

Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC pipes and other products. The National Cancer Institute notes that the toxic chemical has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver.

When 38 of the rail cars derailed, a fire ensued, damaging an additional 12 cars.

Of the 20 cars carrying hazardous materials, 11 derailed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Authorities—fearing a major explosion—decided to release and burn vinyl chloride from five cars on Feb. 6, sending a massive cloud of black smoke into the sky. Visible for miles, it was likened to the mushroom cloud caused by a nuclear weapon.

They called it a “controlled burn,” but residents claim it was anything but controlled. A dark cloud of chemical-filled smoke could be seen for miles. Debris landed on properties several miles away.

Train cars ruptured, spilling their contents into a drainage ditch that connects to Sulphur Run, a stream that flows through the heart of East Palestine.

Before the burn, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine urged residents to evacuate a one-by-two-mile area surrounding East Palestine—which included parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mr. DeWine described the urgency as a “matter of life and death.”

Three days later, Mr. DeWine held a press conference announcing that the evacuation order had been lifted and residents could return to their homes. Norfolk Southern trains resumed their routes through East Palestine, and federal and state officials said testing showed that the air and water were safe.

A year later, cleanup work continues. Officials from federal and state agencies have repeatedly said tests show that the air and water are safe in East Palestine and surrounding communities. Residents are still complaining about a toxic smell in the air, burning eyes, rashes, and headaches, among other health issues.

In its Jan. 31 statement announcing that President Biden would visit East Palestine in February, the White House stated that “under President Biden’s leadership,” the Environmental Protection Agency deployed a team of trained emergency response personnel to help local and state emergency and environmental response efforts.

“The Department of Transportation also arrived on scene within hours to support the National Transportation Safety Board in their independent investigation of the derailment,” the statement reads.

However, the Biden administration was widely criticized for its handling of the toxic train derailment’s aftermath.

On Feb. 15, President Trump chastised President Biden for visiting East Palestine more than a year after the derailment.

“Biden should have gone there a long time ago — for him to go now is an insult to those who live and work in East Palestine, and the Great State of Ohio, itself. I can’t believe anyone wants him there?” President Trump wrote on Truth Social.

“I know he doesn’t want to be there, and even he knows he is making a mistake, because he is pandering to people who are smart, politically savvy and, unfortunately, badly hurt by Biden’s inactions and lack of caring. It will be so interesting to see how they meet and greet this FRAUD, and the THUGS that surround him!” he added.

While the Biden administration received widespread criticism for what many residents and leaders in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania deemed a slow response to helping in the derailment and burn’s aftermath, President Trump visited East Palestine on Feb. 22, 2023, less than three weeks after the train veered off the tracks.

The weather was cold and rainy, but residents lined the streets and cheered President Trump’s motorcade as it passed. The scene seemed more like a festive Fourth of July parade on a hot and sunny summer afternoon than a dreary and rain-soaked winter day.

While President Biden was returning to the White House from his trip to Poland and Ukraine, where he pledged hundreds of millions more in aid for the war-torn country, President Trump arrived with Trump-brand bottled water, cleaning supplies, and words of encouragement.

Before a press conference, President Trump toured Little Beaver Creek, where local officials provided insight into the derailment’s environmental impact.

He criticized the Biden administration’s response, telling residents, “In too many cases, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg received criticism in the initial weeks after the crash for not addressing what happened in East Palestine for more than a week. He did not announce his intentions to visit the village until President Trump scheduled his trip.

Mr. Buttigieg finally appeared in East Palestine on Feb. 23, a day after President Trump.

“Buttigieg should’ve been here already, President Trump said on Feb. 22.

“Get over here,” he added in a message intended for President Biden.

President Trump noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency initially said it wouldn’t dispatch aid to East Palestine, but reversed course upon learning that he would visit East Palestine.

“When I announced that I was coming, they changed their tune,” President Trump said on Feb. 22, adding that his presence “opened up the dam” for the Biden administration to act.

“What this community needs now are not excuses and all of the other things you’ve been hearing, but answers and results, and that’s what I think you’re going to see.”

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway is a conservative Republican who has endorsed President Trump and has said he previously invited President Biden to the region.

He called President Biden’s decision to visit Ukraine before traveling to his village “the biggest slap in the face.”

“That tells you right now he doesn’t care about us,” Mr. Conaway said last year. “He can send every agency he wants to, but I found out this morning in one of the briefings that he was in Ukraine giving millions of dollars away to people over there and not to us.

“I’m furious.”

On Feb. 15, he addressed President Biden’s plans to visit the next day.

“I’ve said on multiple occasions he should have beat former President Trump here, but he didn’t. Now here we are a year later, and he’s going to come and visit.”

Christina Siceloff lives around six miles from the derailment site in Darlington, Pa.

She told The Epoch Times that she has experienced health issues since the burn and that others in her town have, too.

President Biden’s visit “is a bit late,” she said, adding that she welcomes his arrival “as long as he is coming and actually wanting to do something to help East Palestine and the surrounding areas, and not just to take pictures of himself being here.”

“Whether it be if Trump was president or Biden, I feel the same way. People’s lives and health, now and for the future, are what’s important. That matters more than politics,” Ms. Siceloff said.

Rick Tsai, a longtime East Palestine resident, has a chiropractic clinic across the border in western Pennsylvania around a five-minute drive from home.

Mr. Tsai told The Epoch Times that the focus on President Biden making his first visit to East Palestine is detracting from what should be addressed.

“We’re forgetting what is really going on here. This town is still horribly contaminated and the EPA is lying to us,” said Mr. Tsai, who has performed his own testing of creeks in the community.

“I just got out of the creek. There are chemicals everywhere I walk, everywhere I step everywhere I dig. Two miles from the crash site in the park where children play, chemicals just ooze out of the bank and out of the sediment. We have been discarded by the EPA, the CDC, and local state and federal government. I’m disgusted,” Mr. Tsai said.

“The EPA will tell the president that everything is OK, and the president will tell the world everything is OK. We will continue to have contamination and live with uncertainty each day. What I want to know is—will we receive help?” he added.

The derailment and burn—and what he deems as an unacceptable response from local, state, and federal authorities—moved him to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s seat. Mr. Johnson recently retired to become president of Youngstown State University.

Mr. Tsai and his wife, Tammy, have frequently appeared on national broadcast media outlets since the disaster and are outspoken advocates for East Palestine.

“Since the derailment happened, we keep getting told everything is fine, but we know that everything is not fine,” Mr. Tsai told The Epoch Times. “East Palestine residents have been abandoned. I’ve been abandoned. We have a well, and we don’t know if our water is going to be safe to use.”

As it did for Mr. Tsai, the disaster’s aftermath inspired Ms. Allison to take action.

Before the derailment, she worked remotely in a technology job and juggled caring for her children and her mother, who was in the final weeks of her battle with lymphoma. She is now deeply involved in activism to improve the health of East Palestine residents in the aftermath of the derailment.

Ms. Allison earned a master’s degree in public health and previously worked for the Cleveland Clinic and the American Cancer Society. She testified before Congress during the same time her mother died, urging lawmakers to pass railway safety legislation. She joined Moms Clean Air Force, a national environmental advocacy organization devoted to addressing air pollution.

Ms. Allison would like to see President Biden make what she believes would be long overdue announcements on Feb. 16.

“I want President Biden to come to East Palestine with federal support, resources, and a positive update to give this area hope,” she told The Epoch Times. “While the East Palestine area is not in a dire emergency situation currently, from my understanding, if an emergency declaration is signed, it will open up pathways for additional support, such as long-term healthcare Medicare coverage for any residents with potential adverse health conditions now and in the future.”

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