ABC Silent as Toxic East Palestine Derailment Anniversary Pulls into the Station

News & Politics

Saturday will mark one year since a toxic Norfolk Southern train derailment, and the subsequent “controlled” release and burn-off overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, poisoned the town of East Palestine, Ohio. But in the run-up to the anniversary of the man-made ecological disaster, ABC’s flagship morning and evening newscasts (Good Morning America and World News Tonight) completely ignored it. Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News ignored the fact that President Biden still had not visited the site nor met with residents there.

ABC’s apparent reluctance to mark the first anniversary was another data point in the network’s poor pattern of behavior with the story. As NewsBusters Managing Editor Curtis Houck reported last year, ABC was the first broadcast network to distance itself from the East Palestine story just two weeks after the disaster.

Thursday’s edition of NBC Nightly News had an entire report dedicated to the anniversary featuring correspondent Steven Romo speaking with resident Christine Dilworth, whose life had been turned upside down by the derailment:

DILWORTH: We all had to leave. It was scary. It was like a horror movie.

ROMO: For much of the last year, Dilworth stayed at a hotel, paid for by Norfolk Southern. But that relocation program is ending.

DILWORTH: Bottled water. It’s just my new normal.

ROMO: She hoped coming back to her house would feel more like coming home.

DILWORTH: A lot of people just think oh, it’s done, it’s over. Everybody is safe to go home. I always feel like we’re the forgotten town.

“An October EPA report did not show any concerning levels of contaminants, and state regulators say the tap water is safe. But many here worry about the long-term health impacts. After the derailment, Dilworth says she developed a rash and headaches,” Romo reported.

Unfortunately, Romo’s report failed to mention that President Biden had yet to actually visit East Palestine. Biden was supposedly planning to finally survey East Palestine on Saturday, but perhaps NBC realized that showing up a year late still wasn’t good optics in an election year.

During CBS Mornings, on Thursday, correspondent Roxana Saberi highlighted Biden’s visit, noting that it came “at the invitation of the mayor and some residents.” Co-anchor Jericka Duncan seemed to worry about how Biden would “be received” given how “he didn`t go and face criticism early on when this happened.”

“It is likely to be a tough crowd,” Saberi warned. “It is known to be Trump country. When the former President visited last year shortly after the derailment, he was treated like a rock star.” She also shared the White House messaging “that President Biden has always said he`d go when he`s most useful for the community and that federal agencies have been on the ground monitoring this situation.”

CBS was going to air a CBS Reports special titled Toxic Fog, which featured a former EPA official ripping how Biden’s EPA mishandled the situation.

The transcripts are below. Click “expand” to read:

CBS Mornings
February 1, 2024
8:02:05 a.m. Eastern

TONY DOKOUPIL: All right, we`re going to begin this hour with an inside look at a disaster that raised some serious questions about train safety and the response from regulators. This was a strongly criticized response.

Saturday marks one year since a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. You remember these pictures.

Thousands of residents evacuated, forced out of their homes over fears of the tankers could explode. Well then, local officials allowed the rail operator to conduct what they called a controlled release of the cancer-causing chemical from five train cars. Wow.

They vented it. They burned it right off into the atmosphere.

In a new CBS Reports documentary called “Toxic Fog,” Roxana Saberi talks with a former EPA official who questions that decision.

[Cuts to video]

JUDITH ENCK (Former EPA regional administrator): It defies logic. If you`re going to burn five train cars of a known human carcinogen with no pollution controls, of course, there are going to be toxic exposures.

ROXANA SABERI: Judith Enck is a former regional EPA administrator who has criticized the decision to burn off the chemicals after the derailment.

ENCK: When I served at EPA, there was a vinyl chloride train derailment in Paulsboro, New Jersey. You suck the chemicals out of the derailed train cars, and you bring the chemicals to a commercial hazardous waste disposal facility.

This was unprecedented.

SABERI: The EPA told us in a statement, the personnel were present during ad hoc meetings leading up to the decision to vent and burn in East Palestine, but were not consulted about it, adding its role was to monitor the air.

ENCK: If you`re in the room, speak up. What`s the point of being in the room if you`re not going to share your expertise?

SABERI: And the EPA did not speak up?

ENCK: No. They stood by while this happened.

[Cuts back to live]

DOKOUPIL: Wow. And Roxana Saberi joins us now.

Roxana, it`s a fascinating report. It`s remarkable that that EPA official went on camera to talk about these issues. Are you hearing other things from other officials? And what about residents?

SABERI: Yeah. Well, we took a tour of the contamination site and the cleanup site with the Environmental Protection Agency and they told us that according to all the tests, results that they`ve gotten back, there are not levels of dangerous — there are not dangerous levels of chemicals in the area.

But I asked an EPA supervisor about that: Why are some residents still feeling health symptoms? And he said we just don`t have a good answer for that. Now, some of these symptoms include brain fog, vision — blurry vision, loss of mobility.

NATE BURLESON: Wow.

SABERI: One man we met said he started getting seizures and he can`t work anymore as an arborist and he actually can`t drive anymore.

DOKOUPIL: Wow.

SABERI: Medical experts say there`s just not enough research on what these chemicals can do to human beings. It`s not something you can test in a lab.

BURLESON: Right.

SABERI: So, that`s why they need to continue monitoring the health of this community.

JERICKA DUNCAN: We know the President is supposed to go to that area next — or this month, but he didn`t go and face criticism early on when this happened. How do you think he`ll be received?

SABERI: Well, we know that he`s going at the invitation of the mayor and some residents. So, some people want him to go and see what`s happened on the ground, the progress they`ve made, and still concerns that some people have.

DUNCAN: Right.

SABERI: It is likely to be a tough crowd. It is known to be Trump country. When the former President visited last year shortly after the derailment, he was treated like a rock star. The White House has said that President Biden has always said he`d go when he`s most useful for the community and that federal agencies have been on the ground monitoring this situation.

DOKOUPIL: Everything becomes political at some point.

Roxana Saberi, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

NBC Nightly News
February a, 2024
6:45:08 p.m. Eastern

LESTER HOLT: This weekend marks one year since that toxic train derailment in Ohio devastating the community of East Palestine. Our Steven Romo spoke to people just now returning who say there is still a long way to get back to normal.

[Cuts to video]

STEVEN ROMO: Tonight, video and documents just released by the NTSB shedding new light on that devastating train derailment and controlled explosion a year ago. Including transcripts of the conversation in the train’s cab when conductors realized something was seriously wrong. “We didn’t get any air in the back,” one says. “That means we’ve come apart.”

38 cars had jumped the tracks, some bursting into flames and leaking toxic chemicals.

Christina Dilworth says that day East Palestine changed forever.

CHRISTINA DILWORTH: We all had to leave. It was scary. It was like a horror movie.

ROMO: For much of the last year, Dilworth stayed at a hotel, paid for by Norfolk Southern. But that relocation program is ending.

DILWORTH: Bottled water. It’s just my new normal.

ROMO: She hoped coming back to her house would feel more like coming home.

DILWORTH: A lot of people just think oh, it’s done, it’s over. Everybody is safe to go home. I always feel like we’re the forgotten town.

ROMO: An October EPA report did not show any concerning levels of contaminants, and state regulators say the tap water is safe. But many here worry about the long-term health impacts. After the derailment, Dilworth says she developed a rash and headaches.

Health wise, are you concerned just being here?

DILWORTH: Yes, I am concerned. What’s my long-term future? I’ve already been exposed.

ROMO: As for the cleanup, Norfolk Southern says that is nearly complete. Trucks and heavy machinery remain as crews rebuild the area that was dug up to remove chemicals.

CHRIS HUNSICKER: We want to make it look like it was beforehand.

ROMO: Crews also installed pumps, which are still collecting all storm water from the site.

A lot of people asking why it took so long. What was the biggest challenge at this site?

HUNSICKER: You know, it’s a complex site, but everything we do, we got to work with the regulators to get done correctly.

ROMO: Meanwhile, all day long, trains run through East Palestine, and no new federal safety legislation has passed. Steven Romo, NBC News, East Palestine, Ohio.

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