Norfolk Southern backs out of community town hall amid mounting criticism

‘We have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community’
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 4:16 PM EST
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FOX19′s Tricia Macke is in East Palestine reporting on the situation. Follow her latest updates here.

CINCINNATI (WXIX) - East Palestine residents attended a town hall Wednesday evening following the Norfolk Southern train derailment on Feb. 3.

The crash derailed nearly a dozen cars carrying chemicals including vinyl chloride, a carcinogen. A plume of spilled chemicals that killed 3,500 fish in nearby streams, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, has reached the Ohio River and will arrive, albeit heavily diluted, in Greater Cincinnati by Sunday.

Statements Monday from EPA officials, both federal and state-level, and Gov. Mike DeWine claim that no contaminants have been found in local drinking water. But significant “unknown unknowns” remain, raising a series of environmental concerns, including whether the railcar’s burn aerosolized volatile organic compounds and whether it resulted in the creation of semivolatile organic compounds.

East Palestine residents voiced those and other concerns at the town hall Wednesday night which had been in the works since at least Monday.

“Why are they being hush-hush?” Kathy Dyke said to the Associated Press. “They’re not out here supporting, they’re not out here answering questions. For three days we didn’t even know what was on the train.”

Norfolk Southern, the same company working to buy Cincinnati’s municipally owned railway for $1.6 billion, was not in attendance.

The rail giant issued a statement hours before the town hall Wednesday evening citing “the growing physical threat” to its employees and community members stemming from “the increased likelihood of the participation of outside parties.”

Norfolk Southern has faced criticism over delayed disclosure of the crash from Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. East Palestine residents gained class-action status for several suits against the company on Wednesday.

The same day Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost advised Norfolk Southern his office is considering legal action.

“The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,” Yost said in a letter to the company.

Norfolk Southern’s full statement on its nonappearance at the town hall:

Today, we hoped to join local, state, and federal officials at a town hall to update the East Palestine community on the steps we are taking to thoroughly, responsibly, and safely clean up the accident site and to provide the latest results from ongoing water and air testing. We also wanted to be available to provide information on resources from our Family Assistance Center.

At the same time, we know that many are rightfully angry and frustrated right now. Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties. With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening. We want to continue our dialogue with the community and address their concerns, and our people will remain in East Palestine, respond to this situation, and meet with residents.

We are not going anywhere. We are committed to East Palestine and will continue to respond to community concerns through our Family Assistance Center and our hotline for citizens to ask questions regarding return to home and health questions. We also plan to look for other opportunities to update residents on our actions over the coming days. We encourage all residents who have questions, concerns or need assistance to contact our Family Assistance Center at 800-230-7049.”

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