- By Bernd Debusmann Jr
- BBC News, Washington
Shipments of toxic waste from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment have resumed after a brief pause, environmental officials have said.
A total of 38 cars derailed in the 3 February incident, including 11 carrying hazardous materials.
Solid and liquid waste from the site are now being shipped to specialised facilities.
Over the weekend, officials said that the air quality in the town is normal, despite ongoing fears from residents.
On 25 February, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was ordering a temporary halt on shipments of contaminated waste from the site.
An EPA regional administrator, Debra Shore, said that stopping the shipments would allow officials to “ensure that all waste is disposed of in a safe and lawful manner” at approved facilities. Some waste had already been shipped to facilities in Texas and Michigan.
On Sunday, Ms Shore announced the EPA planned to begin shipping liquid waste to an underground injection well, while solid waste would go to an incinerator. Both facilities are in Ohio.
“All of this is great news for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding community, because it means clean-up can continue at a rapid pace,” she told reporters.
Additionally, Ms Shore said that screenings and air monitoring had found that indoor and outdoor air quality is normal.
Michael Regan, who leads the EPA, will visit East Palestine on Tuesday for his third time since the derailment.
The announcement came two days after a town hall meeting in which East Palestine residents – as well as environmental activist Erin Brockovich – called on the government to provide more answers about why people continue to report feeling ill in the wake of the derailment.
“They’re worried, because they’ve got coughs and respiratory problems,” Ms Brockovich told the BBC’s US partner, CBS. “There’re so many unanswered questions, and they know this isn’t the last of this conversation.”
The derailment and subsequent response have become a politically contentious issue in the US, with lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum trading accusations of blame.
According to US news outlets, including Axios and CNN, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to launch investigations into the derailment.
Last week, James Comer – the chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee – sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging him to “provide transparency” on the incident. The letter came as Mr Buttigieg was in East Palestine to meet with residents and investigators.
Mr Comer, a Kentucky Republican, also accused the Department of Transportation of a “lack of leadership” and attempting “to blame others”.
In the Senate, members of the Environment and Public Works Committee have announced plans to hold a hearing on the derailment. It is unclear when it will take place.
Mounting public scrutiny of the derailment has repeatedly forced US President Joe Biden to defend his administration’s handling of the issue.
“I have spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Mr Biden said last week. “The idea that we’re not engaged is simply not there.”