HomeTop StoriesTempers flare as residents of eastern Palestine confront railroad officials and EPA:...

Tempers flare as residents of eastern Palestine confront railroad officials and EPA: “Don’t lie to us”

Residents who say they are still sick almost a month after a train with toxic chemicals derailed in Ohio confronted the railroad’s operator at a city forum Thursday, demanding to know if they would be moved from homes they fear living in.

“It’s not safe here,” one man said, looking straight at Norfolk Southern representatives. “I beg you, by the grace of God, please get our people out of here.”

More than 200 people showed up at a high school auditorium for the event, reports CBS Youngstown, Ohio affiliate WKBN-TV.

While the railroad announced it was ready to remove more contaminated soil under the tracks, buying homes and relocating people from eastern Palestine has not been discussed, said Darrell Wilson, the railway’s assistant vice president of government relations. .

“Why?” someone yelled.

City Hall to Discuss Train Derailment That Spilled Toxic Chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio
A woman points her finger at a town hall held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in East Palestine, Ohio, on March 2, 2023.

ALAN FREED/REUTERS


Few seemed to come away satisfied with the answers they heard about air and water testing from state and federal officials — even after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was Norfolk Southern to begin testing for dioxinstoxic chemical compounds that can remain in the environment for a long time.

Many people remain concerned about whether the area will be safe for their children in years to come, fearing that undetected dioxins will cause long-term damage. Testing so far by the EPA for “indicator chemicals” has suggested there’s a small chance that dioxins were released in the derailment, the agency said.

Some residents jeered, laughed and shouted, “Don’t lie to us,” as Debra Shore, a regional administrator with the EPA, reiterated that tests have consistently shown that the air in the village is safe.

People yelled. A woman walked out. A man made a hand gesture of excessive talking, WKBN said.

City Hall to Discuss Train Derailment That Spilled Toxic Chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio
A resident gestures during a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) town hall in East Palestine, Ohio, on March 2, 2023.

ALAN FREED/REUTERS


Investigators watching the fire that broke out after the derailment said so melted an important part of the tank trucks filled with toxic chemicals, prompting federal officials earlier Thursday to warn railcar owners to monitor their fleets for similar defects.

The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators determined that the aluminum covers over the relief valves on three of the five molten vinyl chloride tankers had melted and some of the metal was found around the valves.

The NTSB said molten aluminum may have compromised the performance of the valves and prevented them from releasing some of the flammable gas to relieve pressure in the tankers. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has said the failure of the valves was one reason officials decided to break up the cars and burn the vinyl chloride. The resulting toxic fire led to the evacuation of half of eastern Palestine, Ohio, and the surrounding area near the Pennsylvania border.

Shaw said the railroad agreed with all officials who responded to the Feb. 3 derailment that ventilating the hazardous materials cars was the best way to avoid a disastrous explosion.

City Hall to Discuss Train Derailment That Spilled Toxic Chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio
A resident speaks at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) town hall in East Palestine, Ohio, on March 2, 2023.

ALAN FREED/REUTERS


“The factors at the time were that the safety valves on the railcars had failed and the temperatures in the railcars were rising,” Shaw said. “So our independent expert was extremely concerned about a catastrophic uncontrolled explosion that would shoot shrapnel and dangerous gas through this populated community.”

Wilson told residents that Norfolk Southern feels terrible about what happened. So far, more than 2 million liters of water and liquid waste have been removed, along with 1400 tons of solid waste.

Many people have complained that Norfolk Southern opened the tracks less than a week after the derailment and failed to remove the soil underneath. The railroad now plans to excavate the areas and should be able to remove all of the contaminated soil by the end of April if it can start right away, Wilson said.

That only resulted in more jeers and angry cries.

“You should have got it right the first time,” someone shouted.

At one point, says WKBN, East Palestinian Mayor Trent Conaway and resident Jamie Cozza had an exchange:

Cozza: “I want you to tell me why everyone in my community is getting sick.”
Conaway: “I want the same answers.”
Cozza: “Well, let’s get them then.”
Conaway: “Well, we’re here, but everyone has 1,500 statements to make. I’m sorry. We’re doing our best here. I lost it. I’m mayor part-time.’

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an urgent safety alert Thursday to tank car owners telling them to check how many of their cars have aluminum covers over the valves, like the ones that melted after the Ohio derailment. The agency said car owners should consider switching to steel hoods, which is now the industry standard on new tank cars.

It is not clear how many road tankers in use have aluminum valve covers. The cars involved in the derailment were all produced in the 1990s.

The derailment caused much lingering concern for the roughly 5,000 residents of eastern Palestine, though state and federal officials say their tests found no harmful levels of toxic chemicals in the air or water around the derailment.

The NTSB has said an overheated bearing likely derailed the train, sending 38 cars, including 11 carrying hazardous materials, off the tracks. A track sensor detected the overheated bearing just before the derailment, but the crew did not have enough time to stop the train.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has said he is focused on making sure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess while helping the city recover, and Shaw agreed to testify in Congress next week at a hearing on the derailment .

Members of Congress and the Biden administration have already done so proposed many railway safety reformsbut Norfolk Southern and the other major freight railroads want to wait until after the NTSB has completed its investigation in a year or more to make significant changes.

The major freight railroads said earlier Thursday they would take one of the steps recommended by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and join a government program that operates a confidential hotline for employees to report safety concerns.

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