EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (NewsNation) — It has been 132 days since a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, releasing 116,000 gallons of toxic vinyl chloride into the community. Many residents claim they are still sick, diagnosed with the chemical in their system.
The town continues to protest months later, demanding Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issue a disaster declaration.
Around 100 people gathered at the state capital Wednesday to plead for federal support. The protesters said state and federal officials have been ignoring them.
However, the Ohio EPA reported that there has been no detection of contaminants in the treated drinking water associated with the derailment.
The EPA also said plants and soil are not showing signs of contamination, either.
However, many residents still living in East Palestine said they are suffering from health issues, and some still cannot live in their homes.
“I worked 35 years as a union bricklayer to have my piece of the American pie. I still visit my home daily just to manicure the yard and look after things the way I knew my grandfather would want done,” East Palestine resident Darren Gamble said.
DeWine said in February that President Joe Biden offered the state anything they might need, but so far the governor has not taken Biden up on his offer.
“The president called me and said, ‘Anything you need.’ I have not called him back after that conversation. I will not hesitate to do that if we are seeing a problem or anything, but I am not seeing it,” DeWine said back in February.
The president also vowed he would visit the community, but has yet to follow up on his word.
Instead, DeWine sent a letter this week to FEMA asking for an extension, putting a pause on a potential disaster declaration.
“Gov. Dewine should declare the emergency due to the fact that the president said he’ll sign it. Simple as that. It’s simple as that. No politics. People are getting sick, people could die. People are being financially crushed,” East Palestine resident Daniel Winston said.
NewsNation asked DeWine for a comment. Hours later, he sent a letter to FEMA asking for an extension to declare a disaster, effectively kicking the can down the road.
“He just asked for another extension yesterday, and people need out of town today. There are people stuck in their homes that are still sick and can’t get out,” Jami Wallace, another East Palestine resident, said.
If DeWine declared an emergency, and the Biden administration and FEMA approved it, federal aid would flow into the Ohio town. But if FEMA were to deny it, residents would be left without federal aid.
The governor’s office told NewsNation that it has asked FEMA repeatedly, but said, “They keep telling us no” — that East Palestine is “ineligible” because FEMA is primarily a property damage program and, “There’s no property damage.”
“My message for FEMA: We’re United States citizens,” Wallace said. “Somebody needs to take care of us. Like we’ve been left in the hands of Norfolk Southern who’s not taking care of us. So what are we supposed to do? Be left to die as United States citizens because we don’t follow the exact rule of the law? This is a special circumstance and exceptions need to be made.”
NewsNation reached out to FEMA, asking if it would approve the emergency declaration. FEMA has not answered.