Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro sent a letter to Alan Shaw, head of the Norfolk Southern Corporation, this afternoon, outlining his concerns regarding the company’s management of the February 3 train derailment near the Commonwealth’s border with Ohio.
Shapiro met with local elected leaders and emergency management officials in Beaver County who echoed the governor’s apprehension over Norfolk Southern’s poor handling of the incident. The leaders, including State Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver/Greene/Washington), State Reps. Josh Kail (R-Beaver/Washington), Jim Marshall (R-Beaver/Butler) and Robert Matzie (D-Beaver/Allegheny), are frustrated and concerned by Norfolk Southern’s disregard for crisis management best practices and agree Norfolk Southern could have put Pennsylvanians’ health and well-being at risk.
A Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. Gas had to be released from the train on Feb. 7 to prevent an explosion. Service on the rail line has been restored, and the National Transportation Safety Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Norfolk Southern are still on site assessing the situation and providing assistance for local families.
Vinyl chloride, a colorless, odorless, flammable gas, was released into the surrounding area via a controlled burn. Most vinyl chloride goes into making polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is a hard plastic used in a number of common products, such as plumbing pipes.
Shapiro’s letter noted that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) were not immediately contacted by Norfolk Southern and learned of the incident independently in the early hours of the crisis.
Through the process of monitoring for impacts to the residents, businesses and environment, DEP and PEMA observed at least three priority issues with Norfolk Southern’s management of the response that put the safety of first responders and residents at significant risk.
These issues include failing to implement Unified Command, giving inaccurate information and conflicting modeling about the impact of the controlled release of the vinyl chloride, and its unwillingness to explore or articulate alternate courses of action to their proposed vent and burn.
Shapiro angrily noted that Norfolk Southern “can be assured that Pennsylvania will hold [it] accountable for any and all impacts to our Commonwealth.”
He has spoken with President Joe Biden, as well as Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about his concerns and is urging the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to reexamine what constitutes a high-hazard flammable train and revisit the need for regulation.
Local business owners and residents are suing Norfolk Southern for alleged negligence.
In the class action lawsuit, residents allege that crews from Norfolk Southern did not take the proper care to ensure their train cars carrying hazardous materials were safe and caused residents to be “involuntarily displaced.” The plaintiffs sued the railroad company on behalf of the residents of East Palestine, seeking damages for all those displaced by the derailment.
The lawsuit is also asking Norfolk Southern to release all studies and reports connected to the derailment and vinyl chloride release to the public. This would also prevent the railway from deleting any records about the train for a 72-hour period before the incident or removing any property from the derailment that could help determine the cause in the plaintiffs’ investigation.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that 3,500 fish of 12 different species, none of which are endangered, died after the crash across approximately 7.5 miles of streams south of the town, ODNR director Mary Mertz said on Tuesday.
Earlier today, Norfolk Southern announced in a press release that the company is providing over $1 million to over 700 families in East Palestine, Ohio, who were impacted by the evacuation.
According to the press release, costs include reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes and other related items.
Also included is direct support for residents through Norfolk Southern’s Family Assistance Center, equipment for first responders and continued environmental testing and monitoring, which is being done in coordination with the Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) and other environmental agencies.