US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made a visit to East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday morning, almost three weeks after a train derailment and the resulting chemical fallout severely impacted the small community.
The town's residents have voiced their frustration, claiming that the situation has not received sufficient attention from the Biden administration. Secretary Buttigieg's visit comes amidst mounting criticism and concerns regarding the response to the incident.
Local and state authorities evacuated all residents living within a mile of the derailment that occurred on February 3.
To minimize the possibility of an explosion, the officials had initiated a controlled burn of the industrial chemicals present in the affected vehicle. In the event of an explosion, shrapnel could have been dispersed across the small town, thereby increasing the risks to the public.
The incident resulted in massive plumes of dark smoke, visible in various parts of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, which were caused by the emission of vinyl chloride. The chemical, which is a known human carcinogen used in the production of PVC, had leaked from five train cars.
As per a recent report by CBS News, Buttigieg arrived early in the morning on February 23 in East Palestine.
The former presidential candidate from the Democratic Party shared with the news outlet that he chose to delay his visit to the community to allow the National Transportation Safety Board and other federal agencies to take the lead in ensuring public safety, which he claims is the customary protocol for officials in his position.
However, critics accused the failed Democrat presidential hopeful of cynically using the catastrophe as a political ploy to garner attention for his 2024 presidential campaign. However, his defenders have pointed out how President Biden has not yet visited East Palestine, and instead chose to travel across the globe to visit Ukraine.
Residents in the area had started reporting various health issues such as persistent headaches, nausea, and rashes.
"I confronted [Buttigieg] about the lack of confidence from the American public to do his job and whether or not he will apologize for the dramatically delayed response to the #eastpalastine Norfolk Southern train derailment which released toxic chemicals into the entire community," reported Frontlines reporter Kalen D'Almeida.
"I’m not here for politics," replied Buttigieg.
Citizen journalist Savanah Hernandez questioned the former South Bend, Indiana mayor about why it took him weeks to visit East Palestine.
"I confronted Pete Buttigieg once again on being 3 weeks later after he tried to dance around questions on slow federal response," reported Hernandez. "I then asked if he thinks 1,000 train derailments per year was okay with him, since that was his initial response to the East Palestine derailment."
Buttigieg's press secretary pushed back to say that Hernandez was being aggressive for trying to ask him questions on camera.
As Hernandez reports, citizen journalist Nick Sortor was among those gathered at the press pool to ask Buttigieg questions, where Sortor asked Buttigieg for how long he planned to blame the former Trump administration for the train derailment.
"He was ignored," wrote Hernandez.
"I decided to ask Pete Buttigieg how long he’s going to keep blaming Trump for all of Pete’s own failures," wrote Sortor. "His press secretary didn’t exactly like that."
Members of both the Republican and Democratic parties, including Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. J.D. Vance, called upon Buttigieg to prioritize the crisis and expressed their discontentment towards other senior officials' responses to the derailment.
The recent visit by Buttigieg came within a day after the arrival of former President Donald Trump in East Palestine.
During his visit, Trump distributed multiple pallets of bottled water, thousands of gallons of cleaning supplies, and other essential goods, aimed at aiding the affected residents. As he is currently campaigning for a second term in the White House, the former commander-in-chief utilized the opportunity to highlight criticisms of the Biden administration's response to the incident.