Ohio governor on train derailment cleanup: ‘We’re not leaving’

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(NEW YORK) — Following a brief pause, crews are still cleaning up contaminated soil and liquids in East Palestine, Ohio, after the Norfolk Southern train derailment and controlled release of toxic chemicals.

Residents of the small town, located near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, face ongoing uncertainty and concern over potential health effects following the incident three weeks ago.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined ABC News’ GMA3 hosts Gio Benitez and Rhiannon Ally to talk about the latest details on the state’s cleanup efforts and possible challenges to come.

RHIANNON ALLY: Governor, we want to welcome you to “GMA3,” but we want to jump right in, because we have a lot to talk about. As Gio just mentioned, it has now been three weeks. There are still obviously so many concerns. We know the EPA took control over the weekend, but what does that mean for the cleanup effort, and what’s the timeline look like now?

GOV. MIKE DEWINE: Well, it really doesn’t mean a whole lot for the cleanup. That’s continued. You know, the U.S. EPA has been on the scene since the beginning and our Ohio EPA has been on the scene. So that continues. Our objectives all along has been to hold the railroad accountable. And at the same time, though, test the water, continue to test the air, try to give people all the information that we can about that and continue the cleanup. The cleanup is going forward. A lot of the water has already been removed. We’re still removing some of the hard material. And that’s going to continue for the next few weeks.

GIO BENITEZ: Yeah, so many residents watching that, governor. You know, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, he’s going back to East Palestine today. It’s his third trip there. You were with him there last week. What are residents telling you? What are their biggest concerns?

DEWINE: Look, I think there’s great uncertainty. I had two individuals tell me, I walked up on one’s porch and she said, “I’m concerned. Can my children play in the yard?” And so these are the type things that people are certainly concerned about. It’s been a traumatic thing for them. They had this huge, huge train wreck, then several days later, the controlled release. And they’re just concerned. They’re concerned. They have a lot of questions. And what we’re trying to do over the long run is make sure they understand we’re not leaving. Ohio is going to be there. We’re going to be there year after year.

We’ll continue to test the water, we’re going to start testing some of the soil. I know some of the people want the soil tested. We’re going to continue to test the air. We’re going to continue on the removal. And I think that’s what I have to do is assure them we’re in this for the long run.

ALLY: Many are concerned about the impact on their health. You mentioned the woman asking about her child playing in the yard. We know tens of thousands of animals in that area have died. So what exactly will you do to reassure the people beyond testing the soil? How do you help them understand in the long term?

DEWINE: Well, let me just clarify a little bit on the animals. Really, what we had die, we had a significant fish kill. Most of the fish were about this size, the minnows. And that was an event that occurred at one point. To our knowledge, we have not seen any additional fish kill after that. There’s been several animals that have been reported have died. We have now taken those. I talked to our agriculture director today. Some of those tests are already done and they showed nothing as far as — it was just natural causes.

And we have, I think, a couple more animals to actually be tested. But what people can expect in the future is we’re going to continue to keep our clinic open. One of the things that we felt was very important is to have a clinic there, that someone who doesn’t have insurance, who doesn’t have a doctor, they can go get some answers, but then also be hooked into a long-term provider. We’re going to insist that the railroad continue to pay. It was their train. It’s their track. It was their wreck. They owe that to the people of East Palestine.

BENITEZ: Governor, let’s talk about that, because you’ve said the rail company Norfolk Southern is, “responsible for this crash and any damage that’s been done.” Now three weeks in, what’s your relationship with the company like? Is Norfolk Southern doing what you’ve asked so far?

DEWINE: Well, I keep asking my team, “Are they paying the bills?” And so far, to our knowledge, that is what’s occurring. And if that doesn’t occur, then we’re obviously going to have to deal with that. But so far, they’re paying. But look, eventually what’s going to have to happen is there’s going to have to be a fund created. This is what usually happens in these environmental challenges that we see. There has to be a fund, because people will want to be be checked out for years into the future. And there’s got to be money to make sure that that will be covered.

ALLY: This is far from over for the people of East Palestine and the state of Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine, thank you so much for joining us.

DEWINE: Thank you. Good to be with you. Thank you.

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