WASHINGTON – The White House announced Monday that teams from the EPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached more than 530 families in East Palestine, Ohio in less than 72 hours, at breaching their goal of reaching 400 families by Monday.
The milestone comes as President Joe Biden on Friday ordered federal agencies to go door-to-door to personally check on residents affected after the Feb. 3 train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals in the area.
The White House said in a statement first shared with NBC News that federal officials provided flyers with additional resources and conducted health surveys, ensuring that outreach will continue throughout the week.
The White House came under fire for not acting quickly enough to intervene and help with disaster response after the derailment. Biden has not traveled to the area, but his likely 2024 challenger, former President Donald Trump, visited last week and sharply criticized the current administration. White House officials pushed back on the criticism, noting the federal teams that arrived at the disaster site hours after Norfolk Southern reported the derailment.
At an interagency press conference on Monday, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway was asked if he was satisfied with the response. He replied, “Yes and no. I really think they are working as hard as they can.”
He continued, “They’re saying everything is safe and we’re taking them at their word, but we need to get to the bottom of what’s happening.”
EPA Administrator Michael Regan will visit East Palestine on Tuesday for the third time since the disaster three weeks ago, as response efforts transition from their “emergency” phase to “long-term recovery.”
While there, Regan is expected to announce the opening of a new community center where residents can meet with EPA and other agency staff to learn more about the services available.
His visit will come as hazardous waste from the site is being moved again after the EPA temporarily halted shipments over the weekend. The material is now being transported to EPA disposal sites in East Liverpool and nearby Vickery, Ohio.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter Monday to the CEOs of major freight railroads urging them to join a voluntary safety reporting program on conditions that could lead to derailments. Buttigieg has asked for a response from the companies by the end of the week.
Buttiegieg visited East Palestine last Thursday after facing intense pressure from mostly Republicans for not being more proactive in his response to the disaster.
Those calls are now being directed at Biden, even after the president told reporters on Friday that he did not plan to visit East Palestine “at this time.”
He added, “I had a long meeting with my team and what they’re doing, you know, we were there two hours after the train went down, two hours. I talked to all the big people in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And so the idea that we are not trapped is not there.”