Senate Acts After Train Derailment

Posted by on Mar 16, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, Top Stories

A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed last month in eastern Ohio. U.S. senators have introduced a new rail safety bill to prevent future railroad disasters and held a hearing to learn more about the incident. Details continue to emerge about the environmental and health impacts on the community. Here, btwtakes a closer look at the accident, its impact on the community, and government responses.  

What Happened? 

A 150-car freight train operated by Norfolk Southern Corporation derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. East Palestine is a town of around 4,800 residents near the Pennsylvania border. No injuries occurred during the train derailment. Norfolk Southern confirmed that twenty cars contained hazardous materials, including toxic gases. The wreck released hazardous materials into the environment that may be dangerous to human health.   

Three days after the wreck, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered residents within a mile of the site to leave for their health and safety. Governor DeWine made the evacuation decision after learning that some train cars could explode and release toxic chemicals into the air. After residents left the area, Governor DeWine approved train crews to conduct a controlled release of train car chemicals. This prevented the threat of an explosion.  

Who Responded?  

Immediately after the crash, state and federal government organizations began a coordinated response effort. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived to determine the cause of the crash. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also began monitoring and testing air, soil, and water. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) evaluated water quality in the area.  

Health and Environmental Concerns 

On February 8th, Governor DeWine lifted evacuation orders after water and air quality tests by the EPA determined the area was at safe levels. By February 12th, the EPA had tested water in 570 homes without detecting any dangerous levels of pollutants in city water. However, some East Palestine residents expressed health and safety worries. Despite test results, residents reported feeling sick. Some residents complained about headaches, coughs, rashes, nausea, and skin pain. They have also voiced alarm about negative long-term impacts to their health.   

On February 13th, the ODNR reported that 3,500 fish died, and 7.5 miles of streams were impacted after contaminants spilled into some waterways after the crash. The ODNR used dams to divert clean water around contaminated water. This prevented contaminating the drinking water for East Palestine’s residents. The EPA, on February 21st, ordered Norfolk Southern to identify and remove contaminated soil and water, as well as pay back cleanup costs.  

What Caused the Crash?  

On February 23rd, the NTSB released its first report on the cause of the wreck. Their report revealed that a wheel bearing overheated to a dangerous level. A sensor alerted the crew, who then applied the brakes. But it was too late to stop the fire and derailment. The report showed no evidence of wrongdoing by the crew. 

The Senate Takes Action  

On March 1st, senators introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill requires railroads to create disaster plans, conduct more thorough inspections, and set equipment standards. It increases fines for safety violations and mandates 2-person crews. The Senate also held a hearing to discuss the derailment with Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.  

At the March 9th hearing, senators questioned Shaw’s commitment to covering damage costs. They also asked about his pledge to authorize tougher safety procedures. Mr. Shaw publicly apologized and promised millions of dollars towards the recovery of East Palestine. He would not fully commit to long-term payments or stricter rules. Another Senate hearing on proposed safety regulations will take place in April.  

Dig Deeper Use Internet resources to research the Railway Safety Act of 2023. Construct a timeline of events that occurred after the train derailment, which led to the Senate’s proposed legislation.