© Reuters

By Nandita Bose and Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday he has no plans to visit the site of the train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals in an Ohio town earlier in February.

The trail derailment in East Palestine prompted the evacuation of thousands of people and ignited health concerns.

“I’ve spoken with every single major figure in both Pennsylvania and Ohio. So the idea that we’re not engaged is simply not there,” Biden told reporters on Friday.

Norfolk Southern Corp (NYSE:), the operator of the train, apologized on Wednesday at a CNN town hall event that highlighted residents’ concerns about soil and ground water contamination.

The Biden administration has said Norfolk Southern must pay for the damage and clean-up efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered company officials to attend town hall events after executives failed to attend an earlier meeting in East Palestine.

The derailment has sparked a political battle and a blame game over railroad safety regulations, with residents voicing deep concern over the long-term health impact of the millions of pounds of carcinogenic chemicals spilled in their town.

Some Republicans have criticized the Biden administration over the incident while some Democrats have pointed to regulations rescinded under former President Donald Trump. Trump, who is campaigning for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, visited the area on Wednesday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the wreckage on Thursday after the Biden administration was criticized for not sending a cabinet official to the site sooner.

The derailment might have been avoided if the railway company’s alarm system had given engineers an earlier warning that bearings were overheating, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday with the release of a preliminary investigation.

Earlier on Friday, the House of Representatives Oversight Committee launched a probe into the derailment and sought documents from the U.S. Transportation Department on their response to the incident.

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