DeWine and FEMA Issue Joint Statement About Ohio Train Derailment Response

The joint statement was released on Friday night after news spread that FEMA had "turned down" Ohio's request for assistance.

Published Feb. 17, 2023

 (NTSB/Handout via Xinhua)
Image Via NTSB/Handout via Xinhua

On Feb. 17, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional administrator Thomas C. Sivak issued a joint statement about the response efforts following the Norfolk Southern Railway train derailment. The disaster began on Feb. 3 when multiple train cars, some containing toxic chemicals, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.

According to the news release, the Friday night joint statement followed "continued discussions between the state of Ohio and FEMA."

FEMA and the State of Ohio have been in constant contact regarding emergency operations in East Palestine. U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA have been working together since day one. Tomorrow, FEMA will supplement federal efforts by deploying a Senior Response Official along with a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long term recovery needs.

The joint statement was published after several news reports said that FEMA had "turned down" DeWine's request for federal disaster assistance.

For example, on Feb. 16, Fox News reported, "Biden admin turns down Ohio's request for disaster assistance after toxic derailment."

Early on the next day, Fox News followed up their reporting with an exclusive interview with an unnamed Biden administration official, who attempted to explain the situation:

"The Biden Administration is mobilizing a robust, multi-agency effort to support the people of East Palestine, Ohio. Since February 3, the Environmental Protection Agency has had personnel on the ground," the official told Fox News Digital. "FEMA is coordinating with the emergency operations center working closely with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency."

"But what East Palestine needs is much more expansive than what FEMA can provide," they continued. "FEMA is on the frontlines when there is a hurricane or tornado. This situation is different."

The Biden administration also published a fact sheet regarding multiple federal efforts related to the aftermath of the Ohio train derailment.

According to the White House, federal agencies that were already involved in the response included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Both Fox News stories mentioned these agencies below the headlines, though some readers who glanced at the articles while scrolling on social media may not have gathered this context.

"FEMA is in constant contact with the emergency operations center in East Palestine, as well as the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and Federal partners," the White House fact sheet read. "EPA has secured Norfolk Southern's commitment to cover all cleanup costs."

The derailment in East Palestine led local officials to conduct a controlled burn of the toxic chemicals that had been present in some of the train cars. The derailment and the controlled release led to environmental concerns for people who were living in the region.

As The Associated Press reported on Feb. 6, Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern Railway said that "the crews handling the controlled release have done this safely before."

Officials warned the controlled burn would send phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air. Phosgene is a highly toxic gas that can cause vomiting and breathing trouble and was used as a weapon in World War I.

Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern Railway earlier said doing this during the daytime would allow the fumes to disperse more quickly and prevent the rail cars from exploding and sending shrapnel and other debris from flying through the neighborhood.

"We can't control where that goes," he said.

The process involves using a small charge to blow a hole in the cars, allowing the material to go into a trench and burning it off before it's released in the air, he said. The crews handling the controlled release have done this safely before, Deutsch said.

The controlled burn began on Feb. 6 and ended two days later. A temporary evacuation order was lifted after the process had been completed.

See here for more rumors and details related to the Ohio train derailment and its aftermath.

This story will be updated if further developments come to light.


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Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.