Ohio mayor furious with Norfolk Southern after train derailment: 'We’re going to hold their feet to the fire'

Ohio residents were forced to evacuate after a train hauling chemicals derailed, sent up toxic plume of smoke

An Ohio mayor had strong words for rail operator Norfolk Southern Railway, promising that he would hold the company accountable as East Palestine residents returned home for the first time since a train hauling chemicals derailed and later sent up a toxic plume of smoke last week. 

Trent Conaway, East Palestine's mayor, acknowledged that his community remains frustrated due to lingering odors and promised the village is "not just taking the word" of Norfolk Southern Railway and has Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives involved in air testing. 

He told The Associated Press that the village’s drinking water system is being tested daily and is safe and that his primary concern is the health of his constituents. 

"This isn’t going to get swept under the rug. I’m not going to be the country bumpkin that gets talked over by a big corporation," Conaway said. "We’re going to hold their feet to the fire. They’re going to do what they said they were going to do, and they’re going to protect the people of this town."


The cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train

The cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, continues on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.  ((AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) / AP Newsroom)

He also expressed frustration that trains started running through the area again right after an evacuation order had been lifted. Conaway said that had come to pass sooner than anticipated. 

"Mayor Conaway and the first responders of East Palestine are understandably looking out for their community," Norfolk Southern told FOX Business on Friday. "Since the incident, we have been working closely with local, state,and federal officials, as well as our environmental contractors and experts, to remediate the site, as well as monitor and address concerns around air and water quality."


A Norfolk Southern freight train passes through East Palestine

A Norfolk Southern freight train passes through East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 9, 2023, as clean up continues following a derailment Friday night.  ((AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) / AP Newsroom)

It said it was reaching out to impact local businesses and has provided direct aid to hundreds of residents through its Family Assistance Center. In-home air testing and drinking well water testing is offered to any resident in the former evacuation zone who requests it. 

"We will continue to be engaged with the leaders of East Palestine and their community to address their concerns," Norfolk Southern said.

A HEPACO worker in a stream in East Palestine

A HEPACO worker places booms in a stream in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 9, 2023, as the cleanup continues after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train Friday.  ((AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) / AP Newsroom)

Residents were told Wednesday that hundreds of air samples showed no dangerous levels of toxins following the controlled release and burn of five tankers that were among nearly 50 cars that derailed last Friday.


Columbiana County EMA Director Peggy Clark said around 300 requests for air testing in homes have been received so far.

The EPA's James Justice said Wednesday that it was unlikely there would be any dangerous levels of toxins inside any homes or businesses based on readings from air monitors around the community.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.