News Nation: Watchdog group sends Biden letter before East Palestine visit

This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s trip to East Palestine Friday, some residents are ambivalent about his visit after what they say is more than a year of feeling ignored by government leaders.

Jami Wallace is a lifelong East Palestine resident who’s been called the local Erin Brockovich.

She tells NewsNation that she’s “praying” Biden declares a disaster declaration. It’s something that Biden has yet to do, despite Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requesting one back in July.

“Do I think he will?” Wallace said. “No.”

During his visit, Biden is expected to meet with residents impacted by the Feb. 3, 2023 crash and subsequent chemical burn that happened after a Norfolk Southern Railway derailed in the small Ohio town.

“I want to say that if he’s not coming here to take action, then why come?” Wallace said. “It’s been a year of tucking our kids into beds where we don’t know if our homes are safe because they haven’t been tested. They won’t test our soil.”

Although the Environmental Protection Agency is telling residents nothing’s wrong, Wallace says their bodies tell a different story.

“We’re all sick,” she said. “As a parent, as a wife, or daughter, this is unacceptable in the United States of America.”

Added Wallace: “It’s just hard to believe that anybody could ignore what’s going on in our community.”

A government watchdog group that wrote a letter to Biden ahead of his visit echoes these concerns. In the letter, The Government Accountability Project writes that residents “continue to suffer from a range of severe health symptoms, including respiratory distress, skin lesions, neurological issues, new tumors, seizures and cardiac issues, with many reporting symptoms consistent with dioxin exposure.”

Lead investigator Lesley Pacey of The Government Accountability Project said this is an ongoing crisis despite a narrative being put out by the EPA and Norfolk Southern that everything is fine.

“There’s toxicologists, there’s environmental dioxin experts and other toxicologists that have come out and just said, ‘Look, this is going to be a disaster for human health,’” Pacey said.

Since day one, Wallace has been fighting for answers, and has even gone to Washington, D.C. But still, she and others aren’t getting their voices heard, even locally.

“I feel like our city government actually blocks the voices that have human health concerns,” she said.

Instead, Wallace said, officials are more focused on East Palestine’s economic recovery.

“We need both. But I think the fear is if there’s focus on the human health issues, then they’re not going to get the economic recovery that they’re hoping for. And that’s not fair,” Wallace said. “Human health  there’s no room for politics in that.”

Pacey said she sees a lot of instances of people who break out in rashes, headaches and nosebleeds every time they go in their homes.

“We’re hearing and seeing a lot of these stories and it’s just continuing,” she said.

The Government Accountability Project report highlights several missteps and dangerous decisions by federal agencies such as the EPA, CDC, and FEMA including: premature lifting of evacuations, inadequate testing, reliance on industry consultants, and failure to address the extent of contamination beyond East Palestine.”

Norfolk Southern was ordered by the EPA to pay for the cleanup in the aftermath of the train derailment. So far, according to the company’s website, they’ve committed to giving $104 million in aid to the community.

The amount of money flowing into the community from the railroad likely played a part in the lack of response, Pacey said.

Recommendations from the group’s report align with what residents want: for the president to declare a national disaster; provide resources so residents can relocate safely; to designate the location of the train derailment as an EPA superfund site; and long-term medical monitoring.

“This is not over. It hasn’t been over. People are still sick, and they’re going to get sicker, and this is a certainty,” Pacey said.