Environmental advocates again have warned of the dangers posed by trains carrying hazardous materials after the 50-car derailment of a Norfolk Southern train along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border on Friday night sparked a massive explosion.
Officials on Sunday were continuing to monitor the environmental impact of the incident in East Palestine, Ohio, according to CNN. The community’s mayor, Trent Conaway, assured residents Sunday that the air and drinking water remained safe after the crash, near Youngstown, Ohio.
A preliminary investigation found that a mechanical issue may have caused the accident, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Monday morning. The community of about 5,000 people, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh, remained under an evacuation order.
The situation on Sunday remained “volatile,” and officials urged people to stay out of town or to remain in their homes, the Post-Gazette reported. No injuries had been reported as a result of the accident.
“I cannot stress enough that if you are in the evacuation zone you need to leave,” Conaway said during a Sunday news conference, according to the Post-Gazette. “It could be a dangerous situation. I don’t want to see any of our residents get hurt.”
Classes at local public schools in the community about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, would be canceled on Monday, as would city meetings, CNN reported.
In a statement, the advocacy group PennEnvironment said the accident, which prompted evacuations and an emergency declaration, underlined the hazards of such trains, and the need for greater information and transparency surrounding them.
“The potential for an explosion from a train carrying what the local fire chief called ‘different quantities of products’ puts millions of Pennsylvanians – and tens of millions of Americans – at risk,” PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur said in the statement.
“Sadly, [Friday’s] fiery blast on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border is a stark reminder of the threat posed to our cities, towns and communities from trains carrying explosive materials across Pennsylvania and the United States every day,” Masur continued.
Officials at Norfolk Southern said the train was carrying more than 100 cars, 20 of which were classified as carrying hazardous material, which is defined as cargo that poses any sort of danger, “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks,” WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh reported on Sunday afternoon.
Ten of those cars derailed, including five that were carrying vinyl chloride, CNN reported, citing a Saturday statement released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which was investigating the accident.
Conaway told reporters first-responders from 68 entities in three states provided mutual aid and automatic aid.
In its statement, PennEnvironment pointed to a 2015 report it released detailing the risk that trains carrying hazardous materials pose to local communities in the instance of an accident.
“We’re calling on state and federal officials to protect public health in our communities by subjecting freight companies such as Norfolk Southern to greater levels of inspections and oversight,” Masur said.
“Ideally, freight companies should have to re-route trains carrying hazardous material away from populated areas,” Masur continued. “If they continue driving current routes, the public and first responders have a right to know about trains coming through their communities, we need to update and improve America’s ailing rail infrastructure and train companies need to get proper insurance policies to cover the cost of an oil train disaster and safety violation fines.
The accident is a reminder that “time is of the essence. We must act now to protect residents and first responders from the growing threat of trains carrying oil, chemicals, or any explosive or hazardous substances, and move toward a cleaner, safer way of life,” Masur said.
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