The U.S. government on Tuesday ordered rail operator Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminated soil and water at the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and to attend all public meetings with local residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order requires Norfolk Southern to submit a work plan for EPA approval for the cleanup associated with the Feb. 3 derailment of a train loaded with toxic chemicals. The derailment caused a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the town that forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off chemicals.

“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

EPA issued the order under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives it the authority to force parties responsible for pollution to clean it up.

Burned and derailed freight cars are scattered around on the ground.
Drone footage shows the scene of the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 6, three days after the accident. (National Transportation Safety Board/Reuters)

Regan made a second trip on Tuesday to East Palestine, the derailment site.

Although no fatalities or injuries have been reported, residents have been demanding answers about health risks and blaming Norfolk Southern, state and federal officials for a lack of information regarding the crash.

EPA will require the company to reimburse the agency for any cleaning services it offers residents and businesses and to participate in public meetings and post information online.

Residents were angry last week when the railway operator did not attend a town hall meeting.

The burnt remnants of freight cars piled up along either side of a railway track.
This photo taken with a drone shows the continuing cleanup of portions of the Norfolk Southern freight train on Feb. 9. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Some 50 freight cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania state line, prompting persistent environmental and health concerns.

The derailment prompted an evacuation as fears grew about a potential explosion of smoldering wreckage.

Officials seeking to avoid the danger of an uncontrolled blast chose to intentionally release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke again billowing high into the sky.

That left left people questioning the potential health impacts for residents in the area and beyond, even as authorities maintained they were doing their best to protect people.

WATCH | Residents skeptical of safety assessments after Ohio train derailment: 

Ohio family describes disruption, health impacts of toxic spill

Kasie and Nathaniel Locke describe the disruption and health impacts they have been enduring after a fiery train derailment caused toxic chemical leaks in East Palestine, Ohio, two weeks ago.

A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency is taking this action now because things have shifted from the emergency phase to the remediation phase.

The agency will also create a “unified command structure” to co-ordinate the clean-up related efforts alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio EPA, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Norfolk Southern.

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