The White House announced on Wednesday that President Joe Biden will finally pay a visit to the Ohio town of East Palestine in February, just over a year after a fiery train derailment led to a toxic chemical spill and displaced thousands of residents. Biden’s visit to the town, which the president has thus far avoided, will commemorate the anniversary of the disaster and celebrate the administration’s “whole-of-government response” to train derailments and other infrastructure failures.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

On February 3, 2023, a chemical train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed just outside East Palestine, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, spilling more than 10,000 gallons of highly toxic vinyl chloride. Several rail cars burned for two days straight, and first responders set off a secondary controlled burn to dispose of additional vinyl chloride to prevent other cars from exploding.

The toxic smoke from the crash site forced many of the town’s 5,000 residents to evacuate from their homes and also affected the nearby areas of Darlington Township and Beaver County. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that at least four other hazardous chemicals spilled during the derailment, including butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and isobutylene.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Town residents still express concerns about potential long-term health concerns from the chemical spill, including increased cancer risks and contamination of the nearby river. Norfolk Southern was sued by the people of East Palestine, the state of Ohio, and the federal government and the company was tasked with the cleanup.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

In the aftermath of the crash, President Biden was criticized for seemingly ignoring the situation. While the White House released a statement about next steps in just a few days, Biden himself took over two weeks to even acknowledge that the crash had taken place. In the ensuing months, Biden visited the scenes of other disasters, including the devastating wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, but never paid a visit to East Palestine.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, Biden’s chief political rival, made a stop in the town to donate cleaning supplies and bottled water. He also bought McDonald’s for town residents who came to see him during the stop.

(AP Photo/Matt Freed, File)
Former President Donald Trump met with Ohio Senator JD Vance at the scene of the crash. (AP Photo/Matt Freed, File)

But with both the 2024 election and the one-year anniversary of the crash approaching, President Biden will finally visit the still-recovering town.

“In February, President Biden will travel to East Palestine, Ohio, to meet with residents impacted by the Norfolk Southern train derailment and assess the progress that his Administration has helped deliver in coordination with state and local leaders to protect the community and hold Norfolk Southern accountable,” administration officials announced on Wednesday according to the New York Post.

Related: Multiple Investigators Get Sick at Ohio Train Derailment Site

However, many East Palestine residents see this gesture as “too little, too late.”

“In my personal opinion the best time for him to come would be February of 2025 when he is on his book tour,” East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told Fox News. “The President is always welcome to our town. That being said, I don’t know what he would do here now.”

This sentiment was shared by other local residents who spoke to Fox, including business owner DJ Yokley, who stated: “The American people have awakened to realize that the leader of our country did not show up to the greatest catastrophe of 2023, and now he’s going to show up because it is an election year.”

“President Trump came and supported us when he didn’t have to,” said Yokley. “Now it’s, ‘Hey we have to go visit East Palestine because we haven’t done that yet — and check it off the books.’”

Donald Trump also criticized Biden’s delayed response in a Truth Social post, calling the president “the Worst President in History” and telling him not to expect a warm welcome.

An official date for Biden’s visit to East Palestine has not been announced, but it will likely come shortly after the anniversary of the derailment on Saturday.

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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