The Lead

Pa.’s Casey, Fetterman join Ohio counterparts to call for more federal action on Ohio train derailment

By: - February 15, 2023 5:07 pm

Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Sens. John Fetterman (L) and Bob Casey (R) | (Capital-Star photo collage).

Pennsylvania’s two Democratic U.S. senators joined their Ohio counterparts Wednesday on a pair of letters calling on federal agencies to take more action following a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. 

“While we are grateful no injuries or fatalities resulted directly from the derailment, we are deeply concerned about the release of hazardous materials into the air and groundwater in East Palestine and surrounding communities,” U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, and Ohio U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and JD Vance, a Republican, wrote in the letter to National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy. 

The 50-car derailment of a Norfolk Southern train near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border caused a large fire and explosion and prompted the evacuations of hundreds of residents. On Feb. 8, the railroad released toxic chemicals including the carcinogen vinyl chloride in a controlled burn, causing plumes of thick black smoke to spread in the air. 

“Hundreds of families were forced to flee their homes, and they are now rightfully concerned about long-term health risks due to the Norfolk Southern train derailment. No American family should be forced to face the horror of fleeing their homes because hazardous materials have spilled or caught fire in their community,” the lawmakers wrote.

The senators also want details on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to hold the railroad accountable for the release of hazardous chemicals into the air and water near the crash site.

In a separate letter to the EPA, they commended the agency for “extensive air and water monitoring operations” already underway, but said more is needed. 

“[T]he impacted communities need further monitoring and assurance of safety of their homes, their water, and their soil. Our offices are aware of reports of lingering odors and animal deaths,” the senators wrote in the letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. 

Reports from residents stated that chemicals from the derailment have been found in Sulphur Run stream and other downstream waterways, the senators continued. 

“Given the rural nature of this community, many residents rely on private drinking water wells that are not connected to a public water supply system and therefore may need additional testing from EPA to ensure the safety of their drinking water sources. We are deeply concerned for the safety of the community in the impacted area,” the lawmakers wrote.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro wrote to Norfolk Southern expressing his displeasure with the company’s handling of the aftermath of the derailment, noting that he had spoken with President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Late Wednesday, Norfolk Southern officials released a statement that their representatives would not be attending a town hall meeting at East Palestine High School citing safety concerns, WTOV-TV 9 reported

“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,” the statement reads. 

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly