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WASHINGTON — Federal health officials are pressing Congress to fund a new office tasked with tackling the fallout from environmental exposures. But amid the first major environmental disaster of its existence, the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, the tiny department seems unsure what to do — or if it can do anything at all.

Since a train derailed on Feb. 3 in the small northeast Ohio town, releasing cancer-causing toxins into the air, ground and water, federal officials have scrambled to contain the chemicals and measure residents’ exposure and risks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff were dispatched to the town to measure toxic levels and go door-to-door talking about risks after a request from the Ohio governor. Public health experts warn that the fallout could take years to fully measure and understand. Lawmakers are holding a hearing this week on the health risks alone.


But at the Health and Human Services Department’s new Office of Environmental Justice, founded last May under its still-unfunded climate change wing, there isn’t much to do.

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