The announcement of the President's visit comes after enduring intense criticism from Republicans for his failure to visit the afflicted community since the environmental catastrophe on February 3, 2023.
"The President will travel to East Palestine, Ohio to discuss how the Administration is continuing to work with state and local officials to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and support the community as it moves forward," stated an advisory from the White House.
Last year, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, leading to the contentious decision by authorities to conduct a controlled burn. This action resulted in a plume of black clouds hovering over the community.
The combustion is suspected to have released highly toxic dioxins, and over 100,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a synthetic polymer of plastic, were leaked in the aftermath of the derailment. This substance can adversely affect the nervous system and lead to long-term health issues such as liver damage or cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency reported that at least four other toxic chemicals, including butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, and isobutylene, also leaked during the derailment.
Trent Conaway, the Republican Mayor of East Palestine, extended an invitation to Biden to visit the town, located approximately an hour's drive west of Pittsburgh. A White House official confirmed last month that Biden planned to travel to East Palestine in February, but a specific date was not publicly announced.
Former President Donald Trump visited the town, which has a population of just under 5,000, shortly after the derailment. He ordered McDonald's for first responders and community members and distributed "Trump water."
Democrats, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, have attempted to shift the blame onto Trump, citing rail deregulations during his tenure in the White House.
"Well, I haven’t had the occasion to go to East Palestine," Biden told reporters in September. "There’s a lot going on here, and I just haven’t been able to break."
Residents of East Palestine have reported a range of health scares and concerns about the long-term impact following exposure to the hazardous chemicals.
"The President will discuss his commitment to ensuring the people of East Palestine are not defined by this single event, and that his administration is delivering on the needs of families, businesses, and affected residents," the White House further stated.
In the aftermath of the spill, several lawmakers have proposed legislation to strengthen rail safety standards, including the bipartisan Railway Safety Act. However, such legislation remains in a state of uncertainty.