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 over 530 East Palestine, Ohio households in less than 72 hours, surpassing their target of reaching 400 households by Monday.
The milestone comes after President Joe Biden on Friday ordered federal agencies to go door-to-door to personally check on impacted residents in the wake of the Feb. 3 train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals in the area.
The White House in a statement shared first with NBC News said federal officials provided flyers with additional resources and conducted health surveys, ensuring the outreach will continue through the week.
The White House has come under fire for not acting quickly to intervene and help with disaster response after the derailment. Biden has not traveled to the area, but his likely 2024 rival, former President Donald Trump, visited last week and leveled harsh criticism of the current administration. White House officials push 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 Monday, Mayor of East Palestine Trent Conaway was asked if he was satisfied with the response. He replied, “Yes and no. I really think they’re working as hard as they can.”
He continued, “They are saying everything’s 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 shift from their “emergency” phase to “long-term remediation.”
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 available services.
His visit will come as hazardous waste from the site is once again on the move after the EPA temporarily paused shipments over the weekend. The material is now being transported to vetted EPA disposal sites in nearby East Liverpool and Vickery, Ohio.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter Monday to major freight railroad CEOs urging them to join a voluntary safety reporting program of conditions that could lead to derailments. Buttigieg has asked for a reply 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 Friday that he was not planning 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’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and Ohio. And so the idea that we’re not engaged is just simply not not there.”