NTSB Investigates East Palestine Train Derailment, EPA to Assess Federal Response

On February 3, 2021, a Norfolk Southern Corp. train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, sending plumes of smoke and hazardous materials into the air.[0] The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now conducting a safety investigation to determine the probable cause of the derailment.[1] Preliminary evidence suggests that a malfunction of an axle, the rod that connects two train wheels, was the cause of the derailment.[2]

Surveillance camera footage from a Salem, Ohio, manufacturer showed a fire under the train before it reached East Palestine.[3] The train was carrying 150 cars, of which 38 went off the tracks and 20 contained toxic chemicals.[1] The emergency brake was activated after an alarm went off, according to the NTSB.[4] In order to prevent further damage, crews performed a controlled burn of vinyl chloride, releasing hydrogen chloride and phosgene, both toxic gases, into the air.[1]

Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is scheduled to visit East Palestine on Thursday to assess the federal and state response to the derailment.[5] The evacuation order for homes and businesses within a 1-mile radius of the derailment site was lifted on February 8 after air and water samples were deemed safe.[6] However, the Ohio EPA recommends that those who receive drinking water from private wells schedule an appointment for well water testing by an independent consultant.[7]

Norfolk Southern Railway said in a press release that it is “committed to East Palestine and will continue to respond to community concerns” and is “not going anywhere.” The company has been issued a “General Notice of Potential Liability” letter from the EPA, and multiple class action lawsuits have been filed against it by local residents.[2]

The Department of Transportation (DOT) had issued a rule in 2015 requiring railroads to use electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on certain especially dangerous trains, but the Trump administration repealed the braking mandate in 2017.[8]

The EPA has detected several toxic substances in the soil and nearby waterways, including the Ohio River.[1] As a result, local residents are understandably worried, and the incident has highlighted how vulnerable many Americans are to similar accidents in the future.[3]

0. “Ohio Train Derailment Reveals Toxic Risks of Plastic Chemicals” Bloomberg, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-02-15/ohio-train-derailment-reveals-toxic-risks-of-plastic-chemicals

1. “Ohio Residents Say It's ‘Absurd' to Blame Donald Trump for Train Derailment” Newsweek, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/ohio-east-palestine-residents-absurd-blame-donald-trump-train-derailment-1781696

2. “What we know about the Ohio train derailment” Axios, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/13/what-we-know-about-ohio-train-derailment

3. “What do we know about the Ohio train derailment and toxic chemical leak?” The Guardian, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/15/ohio-train-derailment-palestine-toxic-chemical-leak

4. “Ohio train derailment: East Palestine mayor says he needs ‘help' ahead of EPA administrator's visit” ABC News, 16 Feb. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/ohio-train-derailment-east-palestine-mayor-ahead-epa/story?id=97246758

5. “U.S. EPA administer to visit East Palestine” WKBN.com, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.wkbn.com/news/local-news/east-palestine-train-derailment/u-s-epa-administer-to-visit-east-palestine

6. “Is Columbus' water safe from contamination after train derailment?” The Columbus Dispatch, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/local/2023/02/13/is-columbus-water-safe-from-contamination-after-east-palestine-train-derailment-vinyl-chloride/69898777007/

7. “Roughly 2 weeks after a hazardous train derailment in Ohio town, frustrations mount at meeting over residents' health concerns” CNN, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/16/us/ohio-train-derailment-east-palestine-thursday/index.html

8. “‘The longer the train, the heavier the train' — Ohio disaster calls attention to freight's growing bulk” POLITICO, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/02/16/ohio-derailment-train-east-palestine-00083122