Governor calls on Congress to take action after East Palestine train derailment

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 2:40 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2023 at 5:42 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WXIX) - Norfolk Southern Railroad may not have been required to notify the state of what was in the cars that derailed in East Palestine and Gov. Mike DeWine has called on Congress to take action if that is true.

During a press conference Tuesday, DeWine said he was told the train was not considered a high hazardous materials train and therefore Norfolk Southern was not required to tell the state what was in the cars.

The governor said that was ‘absurd’ if true and called on Congress to take the appropriate action.

The Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine around 8:55 p.m. on Feb. 3 causing a massive fire.

DeWine says about 50 cars were impacted including ten that were carrying hazardous materials.

On Feb. 4, residents in both Ohio and Pennsylvania were told to evacuate the area.

Concerns about an explosion began to increase as the temperature in one of the cars continued to rise, the governor said.

He was told it would be a catastrophic explosion of the car which would send shrapnel flying up to one mile away.

The decision was then made for a controlled release.

Gov. DeWine said the air was monitored after the release and no one was allowed back into their homes until the Ohio National Guard could say monitoring was consistently good.

He said environmental teams remain on-site working with the railroad to make sure it is thoroughly cleaned up with no shortcuts.

The governor says he asked the CEO of Norfolk Southern if he would personally guarantee that the railroad would stay in East Palestine until absolutely everything was cleaned up. DeWine says he gave his word.

Mary Mertz, the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says four different waterways were impacted by contaminants from the derailment: Sulfur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek and a portion of the north fork of Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek leads into the Ohio River.

Mertz says the ODNR estimates 3,500 fish have been killed across those waterways but none of the 12 species identified are threatened or endangered.

Tiffani Kavalec with the Ohio EPA says the contamination plume is moving at about a mile an hour down the Ohio River and currently is believed to be in Huntington.

Kavalce says the further the contamination travels down the Ohio the more it dissipates and the plume becomes less concentrated.

Plants along the river are either shutting down or using treatment they have on site, Kavalace said.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says the Ohio Department of Health’s first concern was to make sure the air in the area of the derailment was safe and now they are concentrating on the water.

He encouraged people who have private well water to get the water tested and the cost will be covered.

Both Vanderhoff and Gov. DeWine did encourage people to use bottled water until they get test results from municipal water sources.

“Our objective is to do everything we can to get this cleaned up as quickly as we can by continuing to talk and what we’re doing. Hope that people will have confidence in what’s going on,” DeWine said.

“The railroad caused this problem. They will be held accountable.”

Kurt Kollar, who is coordinating the response for the EPA on site in East Palestine, said Norfolk Southern trains continue to run through the area.

Koller noted that when it comes to train safety, Norfolk Southern has complete control of the tracks.

The trains do come through East Palestine at reduced speed but any work at the site must stop until they pass.

Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw issued a statement on the incident:

“We will be judged by our actions. We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.”

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