Tim Ryan may not agree with Senator JD Vance on much, but the 2022 election rivals have found common ground on the scorched, stinking earth that surrounds a massive train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The former Senate candidate spoke to The Independent as part of his first major media blitz since his service in the US House of Representatives ended just one month ago. The 49-year-old Mr Ryan is coming off of a narrow loss in one of the most-watched Senate races of the midterm cycle – and one of just two where a Trump endorsee who was not already an incumbent won a competitve seat in Congress’ upper chamber.
Now Mr Ryan continues his same efforts to spark the generational change within Washington that he has long argued is necessary and which once triggered his own leadership challenge against then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On Tuesday, he was set to appear in deep-red Tennessee for an event on civil discourse with the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy at Vanderbilt University.
And speaking about the reaction of state and federal electeds to the devastating scene in East Palestine, Mr Ryan commended a bipartisan call for a long-term health study of the town’s residents by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and JD Vance, a Republican.
"While we understand that EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other local, state, and federal authorities have been more focused – by design – on emergency removal action and associated risks related to acute exposure in the immediate aftermath of the derailment, we want to ensure that efforts moving forward also anticipate and address our constituents’ concerns over potential long-term impacts from the disaster," the senators wrote to the EPA and CDC this week.
Mr Ryan commented that it was exactly the kind of commonsense across-the-aisle work that Washington could and should be doing every day.
“I think it's great,” he said of their effort. “And those are the kinds of, like, little things that are really common sense, that are really helpful, that getting Democrats and Republicans working on can be the beginning of kind of stitching this thing back together.”
He went on to say, however, that he was “very concerned” and worried about the residents of the Ohio town, adding that he had recently spoken to one woman from a nearby town who had told him that she was concerned for her own health after driving through the area and instantly detecting an odd smell in the air.
“I just had several conversations in the airport with people who live over that way,” Mr Ryan told The Independent. “And just the level of concern still in the community, the people that are just picking up and leaving out of concern for their own health.”
“I'm just really concerned. I think we've got to figure out, you know, how we're going to help those people.” said the former congressman. “You know, what are the technologies that are out there? You know, what are the businesses that are out there that can that can maybe come in and intervene and maybe provide some level of, you know, remediation?”
He also had a serious warning for Ohio officials who have declared the water and air of East Palestine safe, as well as officials in the Biden administration overseeing the cleanup effort, and hearing residents’ concerns: Dismissing their questions could have “potentially lethal” consequences.
“You know, I'm not a scientist, and I'm not in Congress. I'm not privy to all those conversations. But I will say that, you know, any diminishment of what's going on there is potentially lethal,” said Mr Ryan.
“Yeah, maybe it's not in the water table right now, but it will make its way into it,” he warned. “And then into the Ohio River and you know, who knows.”
Mr Ryan’s former congressional district was redrawn as part of the state’s redistricting process; he previously represented regions bordering East Palestine including the nearby urban hubs of Youngstown and Akron.
Ohio officials including the state’s governor, Mike DeWine, have insisted to residents that health concerns have been addressed and there is no danger to people from chemicals in the air or drinking water following the crash. But reports continue to surface from residents who claim otherwise, basing their arguments on environmental damage that continues to spread in the areas around the derailment scene.
Mr Vance himself recently posted a video of what the senator said was a polluted creek a short ways downstream from the site of the crash.
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