Norfolk Southern mistakenly burned chemicals after Ohio train derailment, agency says | Ohio

National Transportation Security Board said Norfolk Southern and its contractors unnecessarily burned toxic chemicals – including vinyl chloride – from their tank cars during the derailment of a freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, last February, releasing dangerous fumes into the air.

At a board meeting Tuesday, the NTSB said an overheated wheel bearing caused the derailment, adding that Norfolk Southern and its contractors “misinterpreted and ignored evidence” in making their decision to execute a controversial controlled burn over concerns that vinyl chloride could potentially explode.

Following the decision by Norfolk Southern and its contractors to vent and burn the chemicals, plumes of black smoke filled the air in East Palestine for days. The derailment and fumes caused the evacuation of between 1,500 and 2,000 of the city’s approximately 4,900 residents. It also caused what residents describe as various health problems, including nausea, diarrhea and headaches due to chemical exposure.

Vinyl chloride, a colorless, highly flammable gas used to make plastic, can cause a number of health problems, including drowsiness, loss of coordination, visual and hearing abnormalities, nausea, headache, and, in some cases, death. death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, the NTSB said OxyVinyls, the manufacturer of vinyl chloride, informed Norfolk Southern that there was no risk of explosion because the chemicals were stored in tank cars that were strong enough to withstand crashes. , according to Politico. The outlet further reported that the vinyl chloride had been stabilized to prevent chemical reactions.

However, Norfolk Southern and its contractors did not inform the local fire marshal that the chemicals did not need to be burned. Other hazardous chemicals released during the derailment included butyl acrylate, 2-ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether.

Paul Stancil, an NTSB hazardous materials investigator, also reportedly said during the board meeting: “Norfolk Southern contractors, who were in charge of evaluating the derailment scene, compromised the integrity of the venting and burning decision by withholding full information… from the incident commander,” Politico reported.

Stancil added: “Norfolk Southern and its contractors continued to assert the need for venting and flaring, although the available evidence should have led them to reevaluate their initial conclusion.”

Countering the NTSB’s findings, Norfolk Southern said it did not withhold information from local officials and could have spoken to OxyVinyls employees who were at the scene of the derailment.

“There was no obstacle to them making their views known to those making final decisions,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement. The company also said OxyVinyls provided it with “conflicting information.”

“Ventilation and burning effectively prevented a possible uncontrolled explosion. “There was no loss of life, injury or property damage, and contractors took steps to manage the environmental impact,” Norfolk Southern added.

NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy noted during the meeting that “the absence of fatalities or injuries does not mean the presence of safety,” according to the Associated Press.

In May, Norfolk Southern agreed to pay a $310 million settlement with the U.S. government over the disastrous derailment. In addition to paying a $15 million civil penalty for violating drinking water laws, the company agreed to pay hundreds of millions in cleanup costs.

The settlement came a month after the company agreed to pay $600 million in a class-action settlement that it said would resolve all class-action lawsuits within a 20-mile radius of the derailment.

Hazardous chemicals released into the air after the derailment spread to 16 states, according to a report released last month.

“We saw the chemical signature of this fire in many places and far away,” David Gay, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the report, said in June.

“There was more than we ever imagined,” he said, adding: “That can spread pollution over a long distance… and it was a nasty little fire with a lot of emissions.”

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