Feds To Release Investigative Findings on Devastating East Palestine, Ohio, Train Derailment

‘This report will serve as a catalyst of change to show that choosing profits over people is favorable for no one,’ a resident says.

AP/Gene J. Puskar
Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed at East Palestine, Ohio. AP/Gene J. Puskar

The National Transportation Safety Board this week will release its East Palestine train derailment report, which is expected to shed insight on the tragedy that rocked the nation and forever changed the small Ohio town.

Nearly a year-and-a-half after the derailment, the NTSB will be back at East Palestine for two community meetings with affected residents. The board will hold a meeting Tuesday to hear from investigators, vote on a draft report, and issue an executive summary of the final report that includes safety recommendations, the NTSB said, noting that the entire report will be available online in the coming weeks. 

The Biden administration issued a final ruling today that mandates railroads “proactively provide first responders with real-time electronic information about rail hazmat shipments to the primary Public Safety Answering Point,” such as a 911 call center, as soon as any incident arises with hazardous materials.

The rule is the latest in a series of public safety efforts made in the aftermath of East Palestine, with the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, calling the new rules “part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to make our rails safer.” Yet, President Biden faced intense criticism for his failure to visit the residents of East Palestine until more than a year after the derailment. 

In February 2023, a train carrying large amounts of hazardous substances — including a gas used in plastic productions called vinyl chloride — derailed unexpectedly in the small town along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. In the days after, its operator, Norfolk Southern, conducted a “controlled” burn of the hazardous materials, expressing concerns that they would explode otherwise. 

That release of chemicals sparked widespread backlash for killing nearby wildlife, polluting the area and nearby communities, and saddling residents with long-term health issues, as the Sun has reported

That pollution affected a large area that extended “from the Midwest through the Northeast and likely Canada, and perhaps as far south as North Carolina” — portions of 16 states in total — a newly-released study led by a University of Wisconsin researcher, David Gay, finds

“The accident and subsequent fire resulted in the emissions of large amounts of hazardous compounds to the ambient atmosphere over many days,” the study noted.

Ahead of the highly-anticipated NTSB report, East Palestine residents are speaking out about railroad safety and hazardous chemicals. 

“Vinyl chloride incidents happen once every 5.3 days. As the community thoughtfully prepares for the NTSB’s final report, we are both hopeful and confident to receive the confirmation that this was a preventable train derailment and unnecessary chemical disaster,” an East Palestine resident, Jess Conard, tells the Sun. 

Ms. Conard worked in speech therapy before the derailment but was propelled into an environmental advocacy role with Beyond Plastics after suffering health effects after the controlled burn. She now brings awareness to other communities about the millions of pounds of vinyl chloride being shipped by railroads across the country at any given moment, indicating that the tragedy at East Palestine could happen anywhere. 

“Moving forward, this report will serve as a catalyst of change to show that choosing profits over people is favorable for no one,” she says. “We now recognize that the problems here are not unique or solitary, it’s systemic and vast.”

When reached by the Sun, Northern Suffolk said it is working on a series of procedures and investing in technology to improve railroad safety. 

“We’re making it right in East Palestine and fulfilling our long-term commitments to address drinking water, home values, and healthcare,” its statement said. “To date, we have contributed more than $108 million to East Palestine and the surrounding areas and conducted thousands of tests that show the air and water are safe.”

The New York Sun

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