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CNN Live Event/Special
Norfolk Southern CEO: "We're Going To See This Through"; DeWine: "We're Testing The Water"; Dr. Vanderhoff: "Our Concern, From The Very Start, Has Been On The Health And Safety Of The Residents Of East Palestine." Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 22, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A fiery train crash, in rural Ohio, has left a town on edge, fearing for their health, and their livelihoods.
MAYOR TRENT CONAWAY, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: We need our residents to feel safe in their homes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, the residents of East Palestine question the people in power.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): All we can do is give people the facts. As we test, we'll tell people exactly what we find.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw.
ALAN SHAW, CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: We're going to be here today. We're going to be here tomorrow. And we're going to be here five years from now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And EPA Chief, Michael Regan.
MICHAEL REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: We're not going to leave this community behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the first televised Town Hall, where residents share their stories.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I know is our town needs help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plead for help and demand the truth.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT & CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to our special CNN Town Hall, on the Ohio toxic train disaster.
Tonight, we're going to facilitate a much needed conversation, between a community demanding accountability, and the leaders charged with keeping them safe.
In studio, with me here, are some of the residents, of East Palestine, Ohio, and they're joined by their neighbors, from their hometown, which sits alongside the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
These men and women have spent the last 19 days, frightened and frustrated, after a train derailment sent hazardous chemicals, into their air, into their soil, into their water. They've been told that it's safe to breathe the air, and drink the water. But they have seen thousands of dead fish, in local creeks. And many of them have felt and continue to feel ill.
Tonight, for the first time, since that disaster, residents are going to have the chance, to directly question the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the train company, at the center of all this; and the EPA Administrator, Michael Regan; and their Governor, Mike DeWine.
Some of the questions we've been hearing, since we've been covering this story. "How could this happen? Is the air safe to breathe? Is the water safe to drink? Can the testing be trusted?"
Now, we're going to let members of the community ask their questions in a moment.
But first, let's bring in CNN's Jason Carroll, also in East Palestine, Ohio, to bring us up to speed.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, today, residents, here, in East Palestine, got a visit, from former President Donald Trump.
Tomorrow, Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, will get his chance to do the same.
Meanwhile, Ohio's governor says that going forward, Ohio's EPA will independently test the municipal water that will be done out of an abundance of caution that will be done once a week.
Officials continue to say that the air and water is safe. But residents here, on the ground, have not believed that from the very beginning.
CARROLL (voice-over): Friday, February 3, flames of burning rail cars, light up the night sky, in East Palestine, Ohio.
A Norfolk Southern freight train with 100 cars partially derailed, including nearly a dozen cars, full of hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing chemical.
CONAWAY: There are two evacuation stations open.
CARROLL (voice-over): Residents evacuate as the blaze rages through the weekend, firefighters unable to get close, due to the toxic chemicals, and the possibility of an explosion.
DEWINE: We had to weigh different risk with no great choices.
CARROLL (voice-over): Monday, February 6, the decision is made, to conduct a controlled release.
SCOTT DEUTSCH, REGIONAL MANAGER HAZARDOUS MATERIALS, NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORPORATION: This allows us to control that operation and not have the car react and do it itself.
CARROLL (voice-over): A large black plume can be seen for miles.
DEUTSCH: The detonation went perfect. And we're already to the point, where the cars are being -- became safe.
CARROLL (voice-over): But residents are left wondering when it is safe to go home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all trying to get home, right, basically, honestly. But it's kind of -- because we can't get direct answers, because nobody knows.
CARROLL (voice-over): EPA testing shows air and municipal drinking water do not have dangerous levels of contaminants. The evacuation order is lifted. And the railroad is reopened.
But when they returned, some residents complain of headaches, rashes and nausea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch this.
You see that chemical pop out of the creek. This is disgusting!
CARROLL (voice-over): Thousands of dead fish floating in local creeks, like this one, behind Kathy Reese's (ph) home.
KATHY REESE (ph), EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: Air-wise, I feel OK. Water-wise, no, no. There's just too many chemicals and stuff that were spilled that they still don't want to identify completely.
CARROLL (voice-over): Officials say daily tests continue to show the air and municipal drinking water are safe. But residents have little trust in them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are my kids safe? Are the people safe? Is the future of this community safe?
CARROLL (voice-over): Anxious residents demand answers.
CONAWAY: The railroad did us wrong. So far, they've worked with us, and they're fixing it. But if that stops, I will guarantee you I will be the first one, in line, to fight them.
CARROLL (voice-over): The EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to complete all of the cleanup, or the Agency will immediately take over the cleanup, and seek to compel the company, to pay triple the cost.
REGAN: In no way, shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess that they created.
CARROLL (voice-over): The Governor, of neighboring Pennsylvania, announced his State made a criminal referral, to investigate the rail company.
GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D-PA): Norfolk Southern's corporate greed, incompetence, and lack of care, for our residents, is absolutely unacceptable.
CARROLL (voice-over): And Norfolk Southern continues to vow to do what is right.
SHAW: We're going to see this through. And we're going to invest in this community. And we're going to do it in the right way. And we're going to do it at the right time.
CARROLL (voice-over): On Tuesday, public officials, visiting homes, and drinking from the tap, to try and show the municipal water is safe.
DEWINE: Here's to you (ph).
CARROLL (voice-over): Yet what remains is a deep level of mistrust, and lingering questions, about who will be around, years from now, to make sure no one has gotten sick.
REGAN: We will go through this process with the citizens of East Palestine for as long as it takes.
DEWINE: We will stay here. We will continue to test. We will continue to do what needs to be done.
CARROLL (voice-over): Jason Carroll, CNN, East Palestine, Ohio.
TAPPER: And our thanks to Jason Carroll. I appreciate it.
I want to get to the East Palestine residents, who are here tonight.
Joining us, to answer their questions, are Ohio's Republican governor, Mike DeWine; along with the State Health Director, Bruce Vanderhoff; and the head of the Ohio EPA, Anne Vogel.
Let's start with a question for those with me here, in studio, and also those in East Palestine.
Just a show of hands. Raise your hand if you do not feel safe, right now, living in East Palestine. If you do not feel safe, living in East Palestine, raise your hand.
OK. So, that's about four, here, and five, in East Palestine.
Let me start with you, Jessica Conard. You're a mother of three boys. You're a lifelong East Palestine resident.
Tell Governor DeWine why you don't feel safe.
JESSICA CONARD, LIFELONG RESIDENT OF EAST PALESTINE: Thank you for being here, Governor DeWine. And thank you, Jake, for the answer -- for the question.
I think I don't feel safe, because I don't know what the future holds, for my town. This has the potential, to really decimate a small town, like us. And we just bought our forever-home, last year. And I want to stay. My family is here, whether alive or buried. My ancestors helped build this town. I live on a road that was named after my ancestors.
And I want to know that it's safe to continue to live here, and that people are going to want to come into our town to live as well. I just want to feel safe in my town again. And I don't feel safe right now.
TAPPER: Governor DeWine?
DEWINE: Look, I fully understand -- well, I can't say fully understand what you're going through, because I didn't have that trauma, inflicted upon me, through absolutely no fault of anybody, in the village. And, it was two times, the train wreck, and then the controlled release. So, I understand that you're very, very concerned, about what the future is.
Look, what we're trying to do, is to continue to give you the best information that we can. And I can tell you that the best people that we can find are in there. These are experts. I don't ask you to take Mike DeWine's word for it. I'm not an expert. But we brought in the best people that we literally can confine.
And we're testing the water. We're testing -- we're going to continue to test the air. As you know, we've got 20 monitors around town. We've gone into anybody, who's asked us to go into their house. We've done that. And what those tests are showing is that the air is good.
It's, we were very careful, in what we said, about your municipal water, your fillings (ph) water. The experts said we think it's going to be good, we don't think it's going to be a problem, but we all agreed we needed to test it. So, we did in fact test it, waited till we got the results back, before we told anyone that it was OK to drink the water.
But we also know that there's going to be continuing concern, about that. And I don't blame you. I don't blame you at all. So, we're going to test that water, every single week, and we're going to continue to do it.
I think the key, and the Mayor has said this to me, and some residents have said this, to me, a real concern that we're going to go away. When the TV cameras go away, and reporters go away, I think there's a concern that you're going to be left on your own. And my commitment to you is that's not going to be true. We're going to hang in there. We're going to stay in there. We're going to do what needs to be done.
I think your community is a great community. The people are resilient. They're strong. We're going to do everything we can, so that you have a great future and your children have a great future.
CONARD: I appreciate that answer.
I think my question more is what about for those of us with private wells? While I appreciate the testing that's been done in town, I have several family members that live outside of that one-mile zone.
I personally have a private well that has not been tested. And we are on the list. We did call. We were assured that we would get scheduled. While we do live upstream, and upwind, I do have family that does not, family in more south of East Palestine.
What can you tell people about testing their wells, and the reassurances that you can provide for them?
DEWINE: Yes, we're going to test those wells. I'm sorry your well has not been tested yet. But we're going to test -- anybody that wants their well tested, we're going to test that well. It's a matter of your safety, but it's also a matter of your peace of mind. So, we're going to do it.
TAPPER: Someone else that raised their hand that they don't feel safe? Nene (ph), did you raise your hand?
NENE (ph), EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: Yes.
TAPPER: Tell the Governor, why you're concerned.
Because one of the things that I hear is, the experts are saying everything's OK.
NENE (ph): No.
TAPPER: And yet, people are having physical responses, reactions.
NENE (ph): Yes. That's what my concern is, the water, like, since I get home, from evacuating, I'm still not using the water, because I never know if it's true, they're telling the truth, or it's lie. I don't know. I'm never -- sounds like they're lying, or I didn't understand. That's why I've never used the water until right now. I've never. I use bottled water. I, again, I'm not trusting what they're saying. So, I don't know who's telling the truth, so.
TAPPER: What do you what do you say to that, Governor DeWine? Because obviously, there are a lot of people, throughout the history of the United States--
DEWINE: Look, I understand--
TAPPER: --who have been told that things are OK, and then they find out a year or two or three later that--
NENE (ph): Yes.
TAPPER: --that they weren't.
DEWINE: Yes. We've been very careful, not to tell anybody, it's OK, until we have evidence that it's OK. Village water, we told people, don't drink it. We think it's OK. But we're not going to know until we test that.
If you have your own individual well, we've told you don't drink it yet. Don't drink it until you -- we not only have tested it, but until we get results back.
And look, there's still cleanup to do. There's still many things to do. So, we're not telling you everything is perfect.
NENE (ph): OK.
DEWINE: No one can tell you that.
But as we go through, and do one thing at a time, and approach this in a methodical way, we're going to tell you when things are clear. Look, there's big -- a lot of noise, on TV, about Sander (ph) went in, and stuck the stick in the water.
Look, we knew that water was bad. That water is not good. That water is -- no one should be getting in that water, touching that water. And we're going to continue to monitor the different streams, and the different creeks. And until they're safe, we're going to tell you they're not safe.
So, it's not rosy. We're not saying everything is good. But there are hundreds of people, in your community, who have come in, from other places, who are the experts. I'm not an expert. But I listen to what the experts say, we try to get absolutely the best experts, who were there.
There was a comment made, Jake, a moment ago, about the fish. Those fish, as far as we can tell, the best evidence we have, were all killed, within that first 24 hours. We're not aware, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Mary Mertz, who heads it up tells me that they have no evidence that there's been any fish killed beyond that first initial release that that took place.
So, we're going to continue to monitor the water, the streams, the different -- the different creeks, and continue to tell people what the results that we have.
TAPPER: Let's go to my colleague, Sara Sidner, who is with our other East Palestine residents.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, yes.
We are here with a group of people, who live here, are from here, and have been dealing with this, and worrying about this, not only for themselves, but for their children as well.
Let me first start with Courtney Newman.
COURTNEY NEWMAN, MOTHER & TEACHER IN EAST PALESTINE: Hi.
SIDNER: You have a "We Are East Palestine" shirt on.
SIDNER: I am assuming one of those reasons is not only are you a mom, but you're also an elementary school teacher. Correct?
NEWMAN: I'm a RBT, a Registered Behavior Technician.
SIDNER: OK. So, you're in the schools. Courtney, can you give me an idea of what your family has gone through. And, in particular, I hear that your son is having some medical issues, after this.
NEWMAN: Yes. So, I live a street over from the derailment. We were evacuated, stayed in a hotel, for a week. Since we've come home, my son has had bloody noses, every day. I've had some skin issues. It's been overwhelming, staying in the hotel for a week, coming home, trying to clean my house, and then go back to work, on Monday, when school opened.
SIDNER: And you've never seen this from your son? Or had--
SIDNER: Are you having rashes?
NEWMAN: No. I'm having the skin issues. His is bloody noses. He had another one, today. I took him to the pediatrician, on Friday. I was told they had no guidance from the CDC, the Health Department, there was nothing they could do. I asked if they could do bloodwork. And they said no.
SIDNER: They said, "No?"
NEWMAN: They said "No." So, I -- they -- he said, "I don't know what to tell you. We're in the dark as much as you are."
SIDNER: OK. But testing is often the first thing that you would do, to try to come out of the dark.
SIDNER: So, I'm sure that needs to be addressed.
NEWMAN: Right. SIDNER: I wanted then -- and thank you so much for sharing your story. And I'm sorry to hear about your son.
NEWMAN: Thank you.
SIDNER: That is so concerning.
Josh Hickman, who is sitting, just here in the middle behind you. You are a longtime East Palestine resident. And you've been living in a hotel, with your family. Similar to what we just heard from Courtney.
Can you tell me what issues that you have been experiencing, since this accidental explosion?
JOSH HICKMAN, LONGTIME EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: Yes. Actually, I was in the ER, just yesterday. I had to come back into town. I'm still in a hotel. I haven't returned home yet. It's not been deemed safe. And I have been staying in the hotel. And I've had to come back into town for just a few different things.
And even since the night of the derailment, I've had the symptoms, sore throat, irritated nose, the headaches, I've been dizzy. I've also, just what sparked me to even go to the ER was just an exacerbation of those same symptoms. And the bloody nose, like when I blew my nose, just the amount of blood that came out was alarming. And so, I was, sought treatment at the ER, yesterday.
SIDNER: That's terrifying to hear that it's large amounts of blood. Are you seeing the same thing, Courtney?
NEWMAN: Yes. My son's was pretty bad. And then one of my co-works -- co-workers ended up having a bloody nose, yesterday at work as well.
SIDNER: I want to get because of these two things that are very similar? And we're going to get to you all, I promise.
But I wanted to take the information, you just gave to us, and to our audience, to our doctor.
Dr. Vanderhoff is standing by.
We've heard few things. One is extremely bloody noses, like an excess of blood, so much so that an adult goes to the ER, and a child. His mother is very, very concerned. Nausea, headaches, dizziness.
What can you tell me? Because, we're hearing from Courtney, that the doctors say "We're not going to test for it." So, what can you tell them? What is it that you can say to them? What do they need to do? And what should they be concerned about?
DR. BRUCE VANDERHOFF, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Well, thanks for that question. And let me say that our concern, from the very start, has been on the
health and safety of the residents of East Palestine. And we know that this has been a terrible trauma, for that community.
And for anyone, who is having medical concerns, and feels for whatever reason, that they are not able to get the kind of evaluation that they think would be appropriate, we have a number of resources to make available.
First, we do understand that dealing with these kinds of potential environmental exposures, or toxic exposures, may not be in the wheelhouse of many physicians, especially many in primary care. We have help for them. They -- we can connect them with toxicologists, people who are expert, in this field.
And I would encourage you to let your physician know, and we are working to let them know as well, that they can call the Columbiana County Health Department. They will work with the Ohio Department of Health. And we will get them directly in touch, with trained medical toxicologists, who can help them think through, what some potential testing, and evaluation, might look like.
For others, they may be seeking care, because they don't have a primary care physician, or they just need the support, or evaluation, of another physician. For that, we have stood up a clinic, an Assessment Clinic, in East Palestine. We have scheduling phone number that we have publicized. And again, that if you need to get that you can call the Columbiana County Health Department, tomorrow. And we'll get you scheduled in there, to see a doctor, for evaluation.
And if needed, if you don't have a primary care home, to get you a primary care home, get you established with a physician, who can then follow your care. Or, work with your physician, to establish a plan of evaluation and care.
SIDNER: Dr. Vanderhoff, thank you for that. I do want to give you all a chance, to ask a question, if you have one, for the Doctor. This is a really good time for you to be able to just say what you need to say, and try to get some answers.
Is there anyone that has a question for Dr. Vanderhoff, who said that basically to call the Columbiana County Health Department, to get the numbers, to get a toxicologist, if you need one?
You are having those issues, with getting tests for your son. And it sounds like you really--
SIDNER: --you're going to need this.
NEWMAN: Right. Right. Yes, I was hoping just to get the baseline blood tests, like they're doing, for the first responders and stuff. And he said, it wouldn't show anything. And that's through Akron Children's is our pediatrician.
SIDNER: Would it show anything, Dr. Vanderhoff?
VANDERHOFF: Well -- So, that's a very, very good question.
The kinds of chemicals that are involved here do not stay in the blood very long. They're in and out extremely quickly. So it is true that if we were to test blood, for these, they're called volatile organic compounds, if we were to test a person's blood, now, after a potential exposure, days ago, you almost certainly would not find those chemicals, in the blood.
However, every case is unique, in terms of the symptoms, people are having, the situation they might be encountering. And there may be a reason, to test, for other substances, or to establish a baseline, of certain values from bloodwork. In other circumstances, bloodwork might not be the best option. And there might be other testing or even careful observation.
But in any circumstance, where you have concerns, about your health, we want to help you get to a physician, who can help you with that evaluation, and help you feel a sense of confidence and comfort that there is a medical provider working with you through this.
SIDNER: Dr. Vanderhoff, similar to lead, which you can't find in the blood after some time often, can people still be sick, if their blood is tested, and it doesn't show up? Can they still have symptoms from these chemicals?
VANDERHOFF: Well, yes, here's what I'm able to say factually, as of right now.
When we, and people know this, when we have extensively evaluated, the two mechanisms, through which these chemicals are most likely, to be taken, into a person's body, in that community, through the air, because they're very volatile, and they get into the air very quickly, and easily, or through contaminated water sources that they would drink? The fact that the testing of those sources has really given the all-clear is reassuring. It really suggests that there really is not an identifiable ongoing source.
Now, having said that, every case, as I noted, is unique, and individual, and deserves careful scrutiny, including a thorough examination, a thorough history, and a discussion, and evaluation that could include, one of either our state or national toxicologists.
And, as I said, we can help your doctor make that connection, or you can schedule an appointment, in our clinic, which is available in East Palestine.
SIDNER: Thank you so much, Dr. Vanderhoff.
And I want to toss it back to Jake.
TAPPER: More questions, from East Palestine residents, here, and in Ohio, in just a moment, including, the chance to question the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the train company. And the Head of the EPA is also here, when our CNN Town Hall continues. Be right back.
TAPPER: And welcome back to our CNN town hall on the toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
Still with us, residents of the affected community, along with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Anne Vogel, who's the head of the Ohio EPA, and Bruce Vanderhoof, the state health director.
During the break, I asked you all -- how many of you have had health issues since this incident? Four of the six of you raised your hand.
Ben, what was the issue you had?
BEN RATNER, CAFE OWNER LIVING IN EAST PALESTINE: Thursday last week, I went down there with a news crew, they said the area is contained and cleaned. A train came through and immediately the smell of paint, their acetone. And then the three of us, even the -- you know, the people from the media that were there -- eyes were burning, noses running, I had a headache the last about eight or nine hours. And later that night, I had really bad -- like projectile vomiting, to be honest.
TAPPER: Projectile vomiting. And tell us about the story from on your way here today.
RATNER: Yeah. On my way here, the TSA saw that I was from East Palestine. She was, like, oh, I live in East Palestine, on East Clark Street, and pulled her collar, and covered in hives. Said she was at the hospital earlier this week. And she was probably going to leave work later today.
And even if it is 100 percent not from the train derailment, how are people supposed to have any sort of confidence in that? And just every time somebody is sick, that nagging idea, is it something related to this train accident? You know?
TAPPER: And you have a question for Governor DeWine.
RATNER: Yeah, going with that, to give people more solid competence, could you use more definitive statements in your answers? Modal words in every statement makes for too much wiggle room and leads to uneasy citizens having no confidence in the information given. Whenever things are said like maybe, potentially, might be, this is a really serious issue, and words like that should have no part in this.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Well, I apologize. Look, I've been trying to tell people exactly what we know. I think I've been pretty strong, I said we're not leaving. We're staying.
We had the best experts. We're going to listen to the experts. I think I'm pretty clear when I said --
RATNER: Would you come and stay in East Palestine?
DEWINE: Pardon me?
TAPPER: Would you stay --
TAPPER: He's asking if you would stay -- if you would stay in East Palestine, would you come and spend the night there?
DEWINE: Yes, yes.
TAPPER: You would?
RATNER: Until the clean up is done, you'll stay with us? Within the one mile?
DEWINE: Yes. I've been there -- I've been there three times.
RATNER: For a few hours. Will you stay overnight for a period of time?
RATNER: Okay, hopefully, we hold you to that.
DEWINE: Yeah, I'll stay -- look, I'll stay overnight.
Look, I have tried to be as honest and straight as I could. We told you when we had tested the water.
RATNER: What about the soil?
DEWINE: We post the results of that.
RATNER: What about the soil, there hasn't been soil testing done into this as well (ph).
DEWINE: Soil -- soil, there's been a massive amount of soil removed. They are not even, to my knowledge, halfway done.
RATNER: They said -- they said 8.2 metric tons --
DEWINE: You know, we've been telling the railroad that they needed to -- RATNER: That's 208 40 cubic yard trailers. There's no way 208 40 yard
trailers have been moved out of their. No way. Numbers are not adding up.
DEWINE: Okay, well, let me -- let me ask Anne Vogel, who heads up the Ohio EPA about that. She's the one that knows about that.
TAPPER: Let's bring Anne Vogel, yeah.
ANNE VOGEL, DIRECTOR, OHIO ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: Hi, Governor, hello.
Yeah, hi, Jake.
The 5,800 -- the cubic yards of soil, that is on storage on site. You're absolutely right. It has not been moved off. The process is to excavate everything that we know is contaminated, and then we test it to see how contaminated it is and where it needs to be lawfully disposed. It will go off-site to storage as soon as we know what is in that soil.
RATNER: So still on site?
VOGEL: That's the process that's underway right now. Yes, it is.
TAPPER: So, Governor DeWine, I think one of the things that you're hearing here is a public that does not always feel, and not necessarily through any fault of yours, sir, but a public that does not always feel like its government always tells it the truth, which is not even necessarily your fault, but perhaps the fault of people who are telling you information and give you rosy scenarios.
And I'm thinking right now about the first responders after 9/11. I'm thinking about Flint, Michigan, during the water crisis there, things that you had nothing to do with. But people are wary and skeptical of what leaders tell them -- Democrats, Republicans, independents.
And I'm wondering how -- how you -- how you cut through that as a leader, the challenge there? How do you get the people of East Palestine to believe you?
DEWINE: Well, I guess that's a great question.
Look, I understand people's skepticism. I understand the confusion. I understand that, you know, they don't believe everything that they're told.
But as a leader, you know, look, I've done this for a long time. I've been your governor for a long time. But I've been in government for a long time.
And one thing I am is a straight shooter. I tell people, you know, what the facts are, if we know what the facts are. And we try to tell them the best information. Sometimes we don't know all the information. Sometimes we get facts that maybe are wrong.
But there is no way in the world I'm going to convey to you or to any other citizen a fact that I think is wrong and I'm telling you is right. I'm not going to do that. I am going to tell you what I know when I know it. And I'm going to continue to do that.
And I think, you know, you judge someone by their -- by their -- by their whole record. And that is why I say, look, it's not so much what we are doing now, less important what we're doing now. The real question is, you know, is your government and the people that represent you, are we going to be there for you in six months, in two years, in three years, in four years? I think I have a record of showing that I do that.
But, you know, I understand the skepticism. All I can say is I'm going to continue to try to do that every single day and to tell you what I know and tell you what I don't know.
TAPPER: Also with me is D.J. Yokley. He is the founder and CEO of a local sports broadcaster, born and raised in East Palestine. He and his wife fostered kids.
DJ, you have a question for the governor.
DJ YOKLEY, FOUNDER & CEO, YOUR SPORTS NETWORK: I do.
Governor, it's great to hear that you will be here in four, six years. As a business owner, we want to know if we're going to be here in four to six years. There are so many businesses that were negatively affected from this derailment.
What's your game plan, and how are you going to coach us through getting back on our feet after we already danced through COVID, and doing it without having to take out loans that we have nothing to do with this train derailment?
DEWINE: Well, it's interesting. You know, you talk about small business and I got a call yesterday from the president. He was in Poland. And, you know, we talked about that -- you know, that very issue. If there was something that we could be -- that we could do to assist small business that we know is hurting in East Palestine.
I'm not sure what we can do but we're certainly going to look at that and see if there's anything certainly that we can do. I know it's a tough -- I know it's a tough time. I think probably the most important thing we can do is to get the cleanup done as fast as we can. And people start having -- having more confidence.
I think overtime, when we continue to do these things, community will have more confidence, I think other people will have more confidence, in regards to the community as well.
YOKLEY: So obviously --
DEWINE: So, it's just not easy. It's not going to happen overnight.
YOKLEY: Right, we understand it's not going to happen overnight. Our businesses weren't built overnight. But they were affected overnight, sir.
And I think the biggest thing is, there's a lot of people in the town, business owners as well that need to either kind of get back in the game or get out of town. I'd love to stay in my town but obviously, we need to be able to be open at full capacity.
DEWINE: I understand, sir. I understand.
TAPPER: Let's go to Sara Sidner in East Palestine.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we are in East Palestine, just to be clear, and we have folks that have taken time out of their busy schedules and their sleep patterns to be with us.
But they are suffering. They are dealing with a lot of different things, whether it'd be physical things or things to do with the economy. And I'm going to be talking to a couple of folks here.
But, first, I want to go to Grant MacKay. He is an attorney.
You grew up here in East Palestine. You have family here still. And you are looking at the possibility of putting together a lawsuit from what is happened. You want to say something I think to the governor.
What is that you like to impart?
GRANT MACKAY, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING RESIDENTS IN EAST PALESTINE: Absolutely. First off, thank you for giving me this opportunity, Jake, Sara. Myself and my legal team at Motley Rice are honored with the opportunity.
And I will say that we did file paperwork this afternoon against Norfolk Southern for two class actions.
Now, Governor, you keep saying that everything is safe. If it's safe, then how do you explain the virtual masses of people going to the medical facility that are not being helped? You have people with diarrhea -- digestive problems, puking, sore throats, extreme migraines that last forever. How do you explain this? Because -- but for the fact that this accident happened, they wouldn't have these symptoms. They don't have them before, but they do now.
DEWINE: I never said everything is safe. What we have told you is we've tested the water. It goes through the village water. It is safe.
That is what the experts tell us. They have tested, but we're going to continue to test it every week. We've told you we are checking the air.
But, look, I don't -- I take everyone at face value. If you tell me that you have a problem, you know, talking about -- some of you have been talking about your children.
Look, there is nothing worse in the world than to see your children's offer or to see something wrong with your children. There's nothing worse.
So I feel for you, I don't disregard that. I don't say that you're making that up.
We set up this clinic with the very purpose to try to get the best experts in. And, you know, we set it up the first day, and it wasn't set up quite right. And so, I told my team, go back and make sure that we're examining people. And that we're, you know, we have doctors who are doing that. And we have doctors who are tied in to the experts.
So I can't explain everything. And I'm not telling you everything is safe, and I'm not telling you that the medical problems that people are encountering are not real. All I can tell you is what we know. We know that that air is safe now. We know that the water is safe, as far as to drink.
We know the creeks are not safe, some of them. And we're continuing to test those. So we're going to continue to tell you what we know as we know it. But we're not minimizing anybody's medical problems. In fact, we're trying to help with those medical problems.
SIDNER: Governor, I just want to follow up quickly with Anne Vogel to see if you can address what you just heard there, that there are lots of people that are going to the hospital that wouldn't be, and wouldn't be feeling this way had it not been for this accident, and are concerned that it isn't still safe.
VOGEL: Hi, thank you for the question. I'm not a doctor. I don't want to address the medical issues.
But I do want to address what -- and follow up on what the government just said. I -- I just want to reassure people that not just we're going to stay here but the Ohio EPA is here, we live here. We have the northeast district office. This is our day job.
I have a team of recovery experts that goes around the state of Ohio that cleans up spills. So, I -- the message is not everything is okay, is that we're going to work, we're going to do everything we can in our power to restore East Palestine to the condition that it was before this accident.
So, we -- as the governor laid out, we have been testing municipal water. We will continue to test it. My team was out yesterday testing the East Palestine municipal water. We will be doing that on a weekly basis.
We have a plan in place. We've got new wells that we have dug just for example to make sure that we have early warning should the water become contaminated in the future.
So please understand that plans are already underway for the future. As we have laid out, there is this immediate emergency response phase, and then there's the remediation phase. We're starting to enter that long term remediation face. We're working with the U.S. EPA. We're working to come up with plans for the soil, for the water, for the air, for the long run.
So I want to just echo what the government said. And please, work with us, continue to express your concerns.
And I want you to know that I am in East Palestine, and I've been here for two and a half weeks and it's lovely. So -- and I want to thank the team for being so gracious to me and the Ohio EPA team that's here. Thank you.
SIDNER: Thank you, Anne.
We're going to come back to our panel. They have a lot more questions.
I'm going to toss back to you right now, Jake.
TAPPER: Thanks and I want to thank Governor DeWine and his administration for coming and facing the good people of East Palestine and taking some tough questions.
Coming up next, they're the ones who are going to clean it up, the Biden administration's point man on the environment promises to make the company behind the toxic train disaster pay for all of it. We're going to talk to him next.
Plus, this community will get the chance to question the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the train company.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And welcome back to a CNN special live town hall. I'm Jake Tapper.
Tonight, the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency is on the ground in Ohio. It's stated mission to make sure Norfolk Southern does everything to fix the toxic mess caused by one of its trains flying off the trucks. The move follows three weeks of angry pleas from residents of East Palestine that the company, the agency, and the president of the United States are simply not doing enough.
Joining us now, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael Regan.
Administrator Regan, thanks so much for joining us.
My first question is, you just issued a new order to, quote, ensure that Norfolk Southern pays for the mess that they've created. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown says this recovery effort could end up costing Norfolk Southern hundreds of millions of dollars.
Do you think that estimate is right? And how are you going to make sure that Norfolk Southern follows through on its promises?
MICHAEL REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, thank you for having me, Jake.
And the cost that Norfolk Southern has to, you know, absorb doesn't matter. They're going to fully pay for all of the cleanup, and they're going to do it in a very prescribed manner.
Listen, EPA has special authority for situations just like this, where we can compel companies who inflict trauma and cause environmental and health damage to communities like Norfolk Southern has done to completely clean up the mess that they've caused and pay for it.
So what they will do is they will provide to us a very prescriptive work plan on how they plan to clean the soil, the water, and the debris up in a very prescribed manner, on a specific timeframe. They will also reimburse the EPA for providing all of the residents of East Palestine a cleaning service, interior and exterior to homes and businesses.
And we'll compel Norfolk Southern to show up at EPA's request to public meetings and explain and talk to the residents about what they're doing during this process.
And, listen, if Norfolk Southern decides that they don't want to follow the order, EPA will step in, so that there's no break in service, perform these duties, while fining the company up to $70,000 a day, and then we'll recoup our costs on the back end, and the law gives us the authority to charge Norfolk Southern up to three times the amount that the cleanup would cost us. So there are a lot of incentives built in here in this order to compel the company to clean up their mess.
TAPPER: I want to bring back DJ Yokley from East Palestine. He has kids at home like many of those with us tonight.
Do you have a question for Administrator Reagan?
YOKLEY: Yes, Mr. Reagan, obviously, we spent some time yesterday together. Appreciate that time, and I was really excited to hear that you have kids, too.
So I guess my question is, if you were in our shoes, would you feel 100 percent safe based on everything that you've heard long term and short term to raise your kids in our community?
REGAN: Thank you for the question, and it's good to see you again, and thank you for hosting me yesterday. You know, my wife asked me that question every single day for the past
week about the children and the families in your community. And yes, I would, based on the evidence that we have.
Listen, we have used aerial high tech capabilities, an airplane, that is doing air quality monitoring of the community. We have a mobile van that is moving in and out of the community. We have placed air quality monitors strategically all around the community. And we've been in over 550 homes testing the indoor air quality.
What the science tells us is that we haven't had any readings that are above certain levels that would cause adverse health impacts. And, you know, we have been supporting the state. The state has a very prescriptive methodology to test the water.
And so, the state -- if the state has given a greenlight to the municipal water and if the state has tested certain private wells and given that greenlight, then we believe that the science says that water is safe.
I understand the skepticism, as a father. I'm a father first and foremost. I understand the skepticism. But what I can tell you is what the science tells us. And that these readings are indicating that there are safe levels.
TAPPER: Administrator Regan, one expert says that vinyl chloride disappears from the air pretty quickly. And exposure might have been really acute for the citizens of East Palestine that first night, but dwindled since then.
I'm wondering, how soon did the EPA originally test the air? And are you concerned that there might have been toxic exposure in that first 24-hour, 48-hour period that isn't being reg -- isn't registering in your tests?
REGAN: Well, Jake, you know, what I can tell you is the U.S. EPA and the state EPA and all of emergency responders -- and I'm very grateful for the emergency responders because based on their actions, we didn't see any loss of life. The EPA, the U.S. EPA, we were on site just hours after the derailment. And we've been there since then. And we've been testing the air.
And yes, we saw a spike in the beginning. But since that spike has dissipated, the air quality readings have been, you know, below that threshold.
So all I can do is really be very transparent and say that we trust the technology and the measurements, but if anyone -- and I compel anyone that is having any kind of health symptoms to follow their doctors' orders, show up, have these conversations with your local health authorities, because we all want to get to the bottom of this. We want to connect all of these dots.
And we want to make this community whole. And I want to hold Norfolk Southern accountable --
REGAN: -- so that this community can be whole once again.
TAPPER: I will say that a lot of the individuals here say that they have gone to the doctor, they have gone to the clinic, and the clinic seems completely unprepared for situations like this.
But you just mentioned Norfolk Southern, and I know you have to go, we're going to be talking to the CEO of Norfolk Southern momentarily. What question do you want to ask him?
REGAN: I don't have any questions for the CEO of Norfolk Southern. I have some orders for the company.
And the orders are that the company will comply with our order, which compels them to take full responsibility, full accountability for the trauma they have inflicted on this community and the damage that they've caused. And the EPA will use all of its authority to do so.
So I'm hopeful that the company will comply with our order in a very orderly fashion, timely fashion, be efficient for the information we're looking for because we want to clean this mess up as quickly as possible.
The people of East Palestine deserve better. They deserve immediate action. And the EPA is going to do its part to ensure that we stand by and stand with this community.
TAPPER: Administrator Regan, thank you so much for your time this evening.
You just heard from the man overseeing the federal clean up an East Palestine. Next, you are going to hear from the man the government ordered just now to pay for every single scent of the cost. The CEO of Norfolk Southern is here and no question is going to be off limits -- off limits.
Stay with us.