Distrust, anger, resentment, speculation, hesitation- if you stand on North Market Street in the center of town, you can catch air of the sentiments overwhelmingly present in this small community that is only in the early stages of healing. This is accompanied by a fleeting, acrid odor- similar to chlorine- passing through the air every so often, burning your nostrils just enough to let you know that something is not right here.

On the night of February 3, a Norfolk Southern train derailed on the outskirts of town. Several of the train cars were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, known by the CDC to be carcinogenic.

In the weeks since the accident, East Palestine has been inundated by numerous outside entities- the EPA, FEMA, the NTSB and international media outlets, to name some. Downtown streets resemble those native to Washington, D.C.: black SUVs with government license plates interspersed amongst media satellite trucks. As evidenced in a recent council meeting and press conference, the surge of government and media attention has done little to quell residents' concerns.

Some residents are taking matters into their own hands. In the days following the derailment, Dave Graham, who also goes by 'Cowboy Dave', decided to help his fellow residents in his own way and showed up to an empty parking lot to distribute water to anyone who is not comfortable drinking the local tap water. The lot he chose happened to be owned by Brittain Motors, whose owner not only allowed Dave to continue his charitable services, but has also temporarily donated their entire property to his cause. Graham now runs a daily operation on the lot, delivering cases of bottled water to 300-600 vehicles per day.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan hosted a press conference alongside East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway on February 28 to hear the concerns of the community and to announce the opening of an EPA center to assist residents. Regan's mentions of President Biden's support for the community were met with scoffs and laughter. The President has yet to visit the town, stating recently only that he will visit it "at some point." In a building directly behind the event, a smirking effigy of former President Donald Trump could be seen in the window of the East Palestine Republican Headquarters.

Resentment is in the air in East Ohio. The question many Ohioans have is "who is to blame?" Fault lies clearly with Norfolk Southern for the derailment, and authorities have assured residents that the railroad giant will be held accountable, however, that answer is not enough for many. People want to know how to proceed. They want to know why this happened. They want accountability. More than anything, they want to know how their lives will get back to normal.

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