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Ohio governor asks Biden to declare disaster for East Palestine train derailment

<i>Drew Angerer/Getty Images</i><br/>Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says clean up of the derailment site is still ongoing.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says clean up of the derailment site is still ongoing.

By Sara Smart and Zoe Sottile, CNN

(CNN) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has asked President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine that released massive amounts of toxic chemicals, triggered evacuations and extensive, ongoing, cleanup efforts.

In his letter to Biden, the Republican governor said the declaration “is needed to ensure that the State and Federal government use all resources available to step in and provide the community with needed assistance.”

The letter notes that, “currently, no unmet needs have been reported to the state” because of the voluntary assistance of rail operator Norfolk Southern. The company has reimbursed citizens and local governments for costs related to the incident.

But that voluntary assistance may end at any time, according to DeWine, leaving the state in the lurch.

“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected local governments, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary,” he wrote.

The freight train was transporting hazardous chemicals when it derailed in the northeastern Ohio town of about 4,700 people, leading to a dayslong fire. Amid fears of a catastrophic explosion of one of those chemicals, the highly flammable vinyl chloride, residents were evacuated and crews conducted a controlled burn of the chemical, averting an explosion but causing new health concerns.

“Because of the unique nature of this incident the State is still working to identify current needs and evaluate the future impacts this disaster will have on individuals and the community,” the governor went on. “In addition to the physical and mental health impacts, there have been economic impacts. Homeowners and business have seen property value decline and loss of business as people are hesitant to come into the community.”

Clean up of the site continues today, five months after the derailment, according to DeWine.

The letter also includes a summary of the effects of the derailment.

“Residents continue to report medical conditions and are concerned that the air and water were impacted by the chemicals released during this incident,” he wrote. Residents have reported rashes, headaches, and other symptoms that they believe may be tied to the derailment.

Monday was the deadline to make the request set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a news release from the governor’s office. The agency denied a June 13 request from the Ohio government for additional time to request the disaster declaration.

As of a June update, more than 20 million gallons of wastewater have been removed in total from East Palestine, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Approximately 11,400 tons of excavated soil is still awaiting removal, while 66,300 tons have been removed, officials said.

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