On 3 February, around 50 train cars derailed in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio. Twenty of them were carrying hazardous materials, forcing locals within a 1-mile radius of the disaster to be evacuated.
Most people were expecting transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg to address the devastation during his appearance at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington DC. Instead, he made an awkward joke about Chinese spy balloons and completely failed to mention Ohio.
"It couldn’t be a more exciting time for transportation," Buttigieg said on Monday (13 February).
"It’s had its challenges. I mean, if you look at what the American transportation systems have faced in the last two or three years partly because of the pandemic, we’ve faced issues from container shipping to airline cancellations … Now we got balloons," he added.
Social media hit back at Buttigieg and urged him to "read the room" with many more demanding he retired immediately.
"Hey Secretary Pete have you heard of this train thing in Ohio happening on your watch," one wrote, while another added: "Before you all start congratulating yourselves for seemingly nothing, what’s the plan for East Palestine and the rail workers?"
Sign up for our free Indy100 weekly newsletter
Now, after ten days of staying silent and being bashed online, Buttigieg has finally spoken out with a lengthy Twitter thread.
"I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It’s important that families have access to useful & accurate information," Buttigieg tweeted following the scrutiny.
"USDOT has been supporting the investigation led by The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Our Federal Rail Administration and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials teams were onsite within hours of the initial incident and continue to be actively engaged," he added.
\u201cI continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own. It\u2019s important that families have access to useful & accurate information:\u201d— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@Secretary Pete Buttigieg) 1676337892
He added: "In the meantime, our Federal partners at EPA are onsite and monitoring indoor and outdoor air quality to test for VOCs and other chemicals of concern."
The fallout from the Ohio train derailment has sparked ecological and health concerns in the area, with toxic chemicals spilling out into the air, surface soils, and surface water.
The chemicals burned for three days. Eventually, a controlled release and burn was carried out to prevent an explosion.
Indy100 reached out to Pete Buttigieg for comment.
Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.