Gov. Josh Shapiro lays out concerns in letter sent to Norfolk Southern over handling of derailed train near PA border
The train carrying hazardous material derailed a quarter of a mile from the PA state line. The aftermath has environmentally impacted East Palestine, Ohio.
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Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has had a fast start to his four-year term and continued his work in a critical letter sent Wednesday, Feb. 15 to Norfolk Southern Corporation CEO Alan Shaw, outlining serious concerns with their mismanagement of a Feb. 3 train derailment that took place in Ohio, a quarter mile from the PA state line.
Shapiro met with a number officials ahead of sending the letter, including State Senator Camera Bartolotta, State Rep. Josh Kail, State Rep. Jim Marshall, State Rep. Robert Matzie, Beaver County Commissioners Dan Camp, Jack Manning, and Tony Amadio, and Beaver County Emergency Services Deputy Director Kevin Whipple.
The train carrying hazardous materials was heading from Pennsylvania to Illinois and derailed, causing a large fire and concern over a possible explosion. It has impacted local people in the small Ohio town of East Palestine, and concerns are growing even with reassurances from officials.
Over 2,000 residents living in the area were evacuated as chemicals being carried were released to prevent an explosion.
Despite reassurances that the air and water quality is safe, residents have reported several health symptoms, including nausea and burning sensation in their eyes as well as animals falling ill and a strong odor in the Ohio village.
In the scathing letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Shapiro also mentioned speaking directly with President Joe Biden regarding the incident and will have full backing and support.
Five cars were carrying vinyl chloride – used to make an ingredient in plastic products and can increase the risk of liver and other cancers.
Not only was East Palestine impacted, but residents and businesses in Beaver County, PA were also affected.
Local and state leaders are now frustrated and are looking at Norfolk Southern’s negligence to crisis management and agree the cooperation has possibly put many civilians’ health and well-being in danger.
In the letter, Shapiro claimed that, in the immediate aftermath of the crash, railroad employees separated themselves from the rest of the state and local emergency management officials onsite that led to unilateral decisions and confusion for the many first responders.
“While I appreciate that responding to train derailments presents an array of complex challenges, failure to adhere to well-accepted standards of practice related to incident management and prioritizing an accelerated and arbitrary timeline to reopen the rail line injected unnecessary risk and created confusion in the process,” Shapiro said.
As of publication, Pennsylvania has yet to see any concerning air or water quality readings and the Department of Environmental Protection, but will continue to monitor the air and water quality in the coming weeks and months.
“You can be assured that Pennsylvania will hold Norfolk Southern accountable for any and all impacts to our Commonwealth,” Shapiro warned.
The governor also accused the railroad cooperation of giving inaccurate and contradicting information about the potential impact of the chemical release.
What more, he said that the railroad was not looking to explore any alternatives “including some that may have kept the rail line closed longer but could have resulted in a safer overall approach for first responders, residents, and the environment."
“Norfolk Southern has repeatedly assured us of the safety of their rail cars — in fact, leading Norfolk Southern personnel described them to me as ‘the Cadillac of rail cars’ — yet despite these assertions, these were the same cars that Norfolk Southern personnel rushed to vent and burn without gathering input from state and local leaders,” Shapiro said.
The governor also called out the cooperations long standing fight against keeping up with modern regulations that needs to be changed in order to prevent any future disasters.
“Norfolk Southern's well-known opposition to modernized regulations require further scrutiny and investigation to limit the devastating effects of future accidents on peoples' lives, property, businesses and the environment,” he added.
Shapiro is also calling on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission — the commission that oversees all railroads in PA — to also review the corporation's actions in the aftermath of the accident, even though the railroad industry is regulated by the federal government.
“Like me, members of our state legislative delegation are troubled by the conduct of Norfolk Southern during this incident. As they proceed with their review and oversight responsibilities, I have pledged the full cooperation of my administration in order to help them facilitate holding your company accountable to Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro wrote.
The letter comes after Norfolk Southern announced on Feb. 13, that more than 700 families and several businesses have been helped.
More than $1 million has been given to families to cover costs related to the evacuation which include reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items.
Residents and businesses who have questions or need financial assistance should visit the Family Assistance Center at Abundant Life Church located 46469 State Route 46, New Waterford, Ohio, or call 1-800-230-7049.