EPA director advises East Palestine children to stay out of creeks, streams amid Ohio train derailment fallout

EPA administrator Michael Regan vows Norfolk Southern will not get 'off the hook' over contaminated water, soil

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan issued a warning to the children of East Palestine, Ohio, on Tuesday in the aftermath of the train derailment and controlled release. 

"I'm a father of a 9-year-old. I think we have to all agree that we wish this accident didn't occur. The accident occurred and as a result, some of our creeks and our streams have pollution in them. We're working very hard to clean up that pollution for the time being while the pollution is present," Regan told reporters during a visit to East Palestine Tuesday. "As a father, I would not advise anybody, adult or child, play in the creeks or stream. What we've said is the drinking water has been tested."

"If that drinking water has been tested and a green light has been given, then we feel confident in that," he added. "But while we're cleaning up this disaster site, I wouldn't advise that anyone play in water that's contaminated or soil that contaminated."


Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine, Ohio, again on Feb. 28, 2023.  (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

Regan announced the opening of an EPA community welcome center North Market Street in East Palestine, where residents and business owners can stop in to get questions answered, sign up for air home monitoring and learn more about offered cleaning services.

"In no way, shape or form or fashion will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess that they created. And as the cleanup work continues at a rapid pace, EPA is awaiting Norfolk Southern's work plan, which we will review and approve," Regan said. "The work plan will outline every single necessary step. The environmental damage caused by the derailment -- No detail will be overlooked. This work will be done that leaves this community whole again." 

EPA admin in Eats Palestine

EPA administrator Michael Regan seen answering questions at Sulphur Creek in East Palestine, Ohio on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. He was back in East Palestine Tuesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Orsagos)


"I want to remind folks that at any point the company fails to comply with the actions ordered by EPA. We will immediately step in, conduct the work that needs to be done, and then force Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost in accordance with the powers granted to my agency," he added. 

Regan said the EPA is testing for all toxic chemicals and has a complete inventory of all materials that were on the train and what the agency is monitoring for and testing. 

He said the agency is working on alert system so that Norfolk Southern can be held accountable and as the material is moving, the appropriate authorities have information to relay to communities "that their safety is being taken very, very seriously right here." 

Chemicals in water

Chemicals float on the top of the water in Leslie Run creek after being agitated from the sediment on the bottom of the creek on Feb. 20, 2023. The EPA administrator told kids to stay out of creeks and streams. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images)


"There have been many residents here who have indicated that they worry about some residual or some dust or some particles," Regan said. "While we don't believe that there are any adverse health impacts in homes or businesses as it relates to the derailment. This is an additional step we're taking to alleviate concern and lowered the angst. And so what we're providing is an in-home or in business thermal cleaning service, as well as an external cleaning service for homes and businesses."