Pa. residents worried about Ohio derailment are flocking to a Beaver County health center
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 4, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Almost 200 Pennsylvania residents have visited a health clinic that opened this week in Beaver County, after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed last month just across the Ohio border and left residents in both states fearing for their health.
The Darlington Township center, which was opened Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, offers various services to Beaver and Lawrence County residents who have health concerns.
“We are not leaving the good people of Beaver County,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said Friday in a video posted on Twitter. “We will be there for them and we will make sure that Norfolk Southern pays for all of this.”
About 50 Norfolk Southern rail cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, forcing village to leave the town. They have since returned, but health concerns have only intensified.
The derailment, believed to be caused by an overheated wheel bearing detected just before the crash, led to a massive fire, and days later officials breached the cars to burn off the industrial chemical vinyl chloride amid fears of an explosion.
But the response from rail operator Norfolk Southern has led to criticism from both area residents and government officials who say they haven’t been given enough information about potential health impacts of the chemical release.
Ongoing testing has not detected toxic chemicals in the air or water.
East Palestine residents, however, said during a town meeting Thursday night that they are still suffering from illnesses almost a month after the derailment. They confronted Norfolk Southern officials, demanding to know if they’d be relocated from homes they now worry are unsafe, The Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said during the meeting that it is ordering Norfolk Southern to begin testing for dioxins — toxic chemical compounds that can stay in the environment for long periods of time.
Those dioxins have caused many to wonder if the area will be safe for their children years from now. Still, EPA testing so far has suggested there’s a low chance dioxins were released from the derailment and that the air is safe, the agency said.
Additionally, hazardous waste has been hauled out of East Palestine since the derailment. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says 2.1 million gallons of liquid wastewater and 1,400 tons of solid waste have been removed from the community.
Officials are also still working to determine the cause of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently concluded that aluminum covers over the pressure relief valves on three tank cars melted during the fire that broke out after the derailment, AP reported. That melted aluminum may have degraded the performance of the valves, keeping them from relieving pressure from flammable gas inside the tank cars.
Officials responding to the incident agreed that venting the hazardous materials cars was the best way to prevent a disastrous explosion that could have sent shrapnel flying up to a mile.
It will likely take a year for a final NTSB report to be released.
As questions linger, various national figures have descended on the small community, including former President Donald Trump, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and celebrity environmental activist Erin Brockovich.
It also spurred members of Congress and the Biden administration to propose rail safety reforms. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will testify before Congress next week about the derailment and precautions the railroad takes to prevent similar crashes.
In Pennsylvania, the state Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted this week to subpoena Shaw after a bipartisan outpouring of frustration over a lack of information and testing data following the derailment.
“The people of western Pennsylvania want answers,” said state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R- Franklin, the committee’s chairman. “I think this is going to get worse.”
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