Pete Buttigieg Breaks Silence After Criticism Over Ohio Train Derailment

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has spoken out after a train containing hazardous materials derailed on February 3, in the Ohio town of East Palestine, close to the border with Pennsylvania.

Around 5,000 people were evacuated from a one by two mile area surrounding East Palestine, on the orders of the Ohio and Pennsylvania state governors, though this order has since been lifted.

On Monday, authorities blew holes in five railway carts to drain them of vinyl chloride, a colorless gas, amidst fears it could explode.

Ohio train derailment
Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4, 2023. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg gave an update on Monday, saying air quality was being monitored by federal authorities. DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP/GETTY

Buttigieg gave a Twitter update on Monday evening, in which he said the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was conducting tests for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and "other chemicals of concern."

He said: "I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It's important that families have access to useful & accurate information."

Buttigieg continued: "USDOT [Department of Transportation] has been supporting the investigation led by The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Our Federal Rail Administration and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials teams were onsite within hours of the initial incident and continue to be actively engaged.

"We will look to these investigation results & based on them, use all relevant authorities to ensure accountability and continue to support safety.

"In the meantime, our Federal partners at EPA are onsite and monitoring indoor and outdoor air quality to test for VOCs and other chemicals of concern.

"EPA has screened 291 homes and no detections were identified—and 181 homes remain."

Buttigieg added concerned citizens in the affected area can request a screening by calling 330-849-3919.

On Monday, Buttigieg addressed the annual National Association of Counties conference, after which he came under fire online for not providing a detailed update on the East Palestine train crash.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and Democrat, tweeted: "He jokes about balloons while ignoring East Palestine, OH. We deserve better than this."

Mayra Flores, a Republican who represented Texas in the House, commented: "Silence from the press and the federal government is dereliction of duty to the public. Where is Pete Buttigieg? How will this Ohio train derailment affect our farmers, the nearby population, and our supply chain for Americans?"

Nobody was killed in the Ohio train crash, though Ron Kaminkow, secretary of rail workers non-profit the Railroad Workers United, argued it should be a wake-up call for authorities.

Speaking to The Guardian, he said: "The Palestine wreck is the tip of the iceberg and a red flag.

"If something is not done, then it's going to get worse, and the next derailment could be cataclysmic."

Following the crash there were reports of hundreds of dead fish being found in a stream that runs through East Palestine, whilst Taylor Holzer, who cares for rescue animals, told Newsweek one of his foxes had died in his arms, which he believes was caused by chemical spill exposure.