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CNN town hall on toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio
By Elise Hammond, Tori B. Powell and Amir Vera, CNN
Members of East Palestine community leave town hall with mixed feelings. Here are the key moments
Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, asked their questions directly to officials during a CNN town hall — but were left with mixed feelings about the future of their town after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed earlier this month.
"I don't believe what they're saying," said resident Nene Stewart.
Jessica Conard, who is a lifelong resident of the town, warned other communities in Ohio and beyond.
"If you have a train near you or a waterway near you, this is a problem for you too," she said. "Stand up, stand with us and we're gonna fight until the promises are kept."
Andris Baltputnis, however, had a more optimistic view, saying, "I was very encouraged. Everything was in the positive direction and I think good things are on the horizon."
"I feel confident to bet on ourselves. I think that's what I took today, we have the one opportunity in our life to rewrite the greatest comeback story in American history and we have the pen. So, if we're betting on us, I'm happy it's East Palestine residents that get it," said DJ Yokley, another resident and small business owner.
Here are the other key moments from the town hall:
- Safety assurances: Experts doubled down on their reassurances that assessments of the air and water have come back normal so far. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he felt it was safe enough to stay in the area overnight. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said while he understands the skepticism by families "as a father," he would raise his children in the community based on air readings that indicate safe levels.
- Health concerns: Courtney Newman, a mother and teacher in East Palestine, Ohio, said she has been experiencing a rash and her son has been getting bloody noses since returning to her home near the crash site. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff acknowledged that dealing with potential toxic exposures “may not be in the wheelhouse” of many physicians. He said toxicologists are available to provide expert advice and a clinic has been set up in the community to help people who may not have a doctor.
- Norfolk Southern: The rail company's CEO Alan Shaw apologized to East Palestine residents for the train derailment disaster. He said the company is going to review the results of the NTSB's investigation as well as use data to "figure out what we could've done better," though he declined to answer any questions about that investigation. Shaw also said the company has already implemented new internal safety measures.
- Ripping out tracks: Shaw said Norfolk Southern plans to rip up the tracks where the train derailed and remove soil underneath. He said this effort is expected to start at the beginning of March. Shaw said they will also continue to monitor testing from various agencies and contractors and are setting up groundwater testing in and around the site.
- Small businesses: Ohio's governor said he is working with federal officials to see what assistance they can provide to help small businesses in East Palestine, but there has not been a concrete solution. DeWine told a small business owner the most important thing they can do right now is to get the "clean up done as fast as we can," adding that he spoke to President Joe Biden.
- Fear and anger: Jim Stewart, who has lived in East Palestine, Ohio, for 65 years, said he is angry after the train derailment earlier this month. Speaking passionately and directly to Shaw, Stewart said Norfolk Southern took away his sense of safety. "Did you shorten my life, now? I want to retire and enjoy it. How are we gonna enjoy it? You burned me," he said. East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said, "there's a lot of fears in town," especially from people who live close to the train tracks where the crash happened. He vowed to get answers to ease those anxieties.
East Palestine has the chance to write "the greatest comeback story in American history," resident says
As Wednesday's CNN town hall wrapped up, residents of East Palestine gave their final thoughts to CNN's Jake Tapper.
DJ Yokley, who was outspoken on small businesses and raising children in the village, said the residents of East Palestine now have a chance to participate in a great recovery story after the train derailment earlier this month.
"As a leader in the community, watching leaders across our state and our federal, I feel confident to bet on ourselves," Yokley said, noting that the east Ohio town had a chance to write "the greatest comeback story in American history."
He added: "If we're betting on us, I'm happy it's East Palestine residents that get it."
Norfolk Southern CEO declines investigation questions
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw declined to answer questions regarding the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation or details relating to what caused the train derailment.
"I'm prohibited from talking about the ongoing investigation," Shaw said. "What I can do and what I am doing and the commitment that I'm making is we're going to get the environmental cleanup right. We're going to support the citizens and the family members here and we're going to invest in the longterm growth of this community and help East Palestine thrive."
He said he is looking forward to the investigation's findings.
"Did you shorten my life?": Angry residents confront train CEO after disaster
Jim Stewart, who has lived in East Palestine, Ohio, for 65 years, said he no longer feels safe in his town after the train derailment earlier this month.
"I'm angry about this," he told Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.
"I don't feel safe in this town now, you took it away from me. You took this away from us," Stewart said.
He said he lives very close to the derailment site and although there has been testing of the air quality around his property he said he is "afraid to put my dog out just to pee."
Stewart said he feels a sense of loss and he worries about the value of his home and his ability to retire in the coming years.
"I don't call it a derailment, I call it a disaster," Stewart said.
"Did you shorten my life, now? I want to retire and enjoy it. How are we gonna enjoy it? You burned me," he said. He talked about the uncertainty of if it is safe to do things around his home, from mowing the grass to planting vegetables.
In response, Shaw said he is going to "make it right" by cleaning up the chemicals, reimbursing residents and making investments to improve the safety of trains.
Shaw says company has begun to implement safety measures but that they are an "internal component"
Since the train derailment earlier this month, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said the company has already implemented new safety measures to prevent future incidents.
Shaw said that "in the immediate aftermath," the company has tested and calibrated wayside detectors across its system and said it will continue to do so.
When asked by a resident if safety measures would be made public, Shaw said "it is an internal component to Norfolk Southern."
Another resident pushed back, asking "don't you think people would want to see that happening?"
Shaw answered, saying the company "can certainly take videos" of new safety measures being implemented and post them.
Norfolk Southern plans to rip out track where train derailed and remove soil underneath, CEO says
Alan Shaw, Norfolk Southern CEO, said the company plans to take a series of measures moving forward to minimize the long-term impacts of chemicals on the land and groundwater, including ripping up the tracks where the train derailed and removing soil underneath.
He said "we've exited the emergency phase" and are now working with the Environmental Protection Agency on a "long-term remediation plan."
Initially, Shaw said they felt like they had an "environmentally sound plan based on engineering principles" to deal with the soil where the chemicals spilled, but after pushback from the community, Norfolk Southern decided to remove the tracks completely.
He said this effort is expected to start at the beginning of March.
Shaw said they will also continue to monitor testing from various agencies and contractors and are setting up groundwater testing in and around the site.
"I'm terribly sorry." Norfolk Southern CEO apologizes to residents of East Palestine
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized to East Palestine residents for the train derailment disaster.
"I'm terribly sorry for what has happened to your community," he said during the CNN town hall Wednesday night. "I want you to know that Norfolk Southern is here, and we're going to stay here. And we're going to make this right."
He said the company is going to review the results of the NTSB's investigation as well as using data to "figure out what we could've done better."
"There's always more that we can do," he said. "And I'm committed to making Norfolk Southern a safer railroad."
"There's a lot of fears" in East Palestine community that need answers, mayor says
East Palestine, Ohio, Mayor Trent Conaway is calling for answers to ease fears in the community following the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals.
"There's a lot of fears in town," especially from people who live close to the train tracks where the crash happened, he said.
"They're justified and they need answers," Conaway said during the CNN town hall. "And we'll get those answers."
He said he is cautiously optimistic that the community will bounce back, pointing to assurances from officials and experts.
"This is going to be a very long process, and you know, eventually, hopefully it comes to an end and hopefully it goes back to the way it was, and actually better than the way it was. That's our main goal," Conaway said.