Aerial view of the train derailment wreckage in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 5, 2023. (NTSB).
U.S. Reps. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., have introduced legislation that would add stricter regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials, such as the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio last month.
The railroad conducted a controlled release of vinyl chloride in five of the train’s cars, claiming it was necessary to prevent an explosion.
Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen used to make plastic resin. Deluzio, who represents part of Beaver County affected by the derailment, said many are worried about their health and whether their air, water, and soil are now safe.
“They want answers, accountability, and assurance that something like this will never happen again,” Deluzio said in a Tuesday statement. “For too long, railroads have prioritized profit ahead of public safety and their workers, and it is time to regulate the railroads. This legislation is an important step forward to finally strengthen our rail regulations and improve rail safety in communities like western Pennsylvania and across America.”
Even though the derailed Norfolk Southern train carried vinyl chloride and benzene residue, it was not categorized as a high-hazard flammable train (HHFT).
The legislation that Deluzio and Khanna introduced Tuesday— the Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act— would expand the definition of trains considered to be HHFT. It would add Class 2 flammable gasses to the definition, and authorize the Secretary of Transportation to add other materials as deemed necessary for safety.
In addition, the act would lower the threshold for HHFT; instead of a train needing to carry hazardous material in at least 20 consecutive cars or 35 cars total as is the current Department of Transportation requirement, the bill would decrease the number to just one rail car.
“The people in East Palestine and western Pennsylvania are the working-class folks who feel invisible and abandoned by our nation,” Khanna said in a statement. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to expand our safety regulations and help prevent against this type of disaster in the future.”
The DERAIL Act would also require railroads to take safety precautions, including slower speeds, newer rail cars, better braking equipment and required reporting when carrying hazardous materials across the country. And it would require the carriers to report the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals to the National Response Center and state and local officials within 24 hours.
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