Gov. Josh Shapiro is holding railway company Norfolk Southern responsible for damages and contamination from the fiery train wreck and subsequent burning of hazardous chemicals in Ohio, just across the state line from Beaver County.
Gov. Josh Shapiro vowed to hold railway company Norfolk Southern responsible for a fiery train wreck and subsequent burning of hazardous chemicals along the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line earlier this month, making a criminal referral to acting state Attorney General Michelle Henry.
“The combination of Norfolk Southern’s corporate greed, incompetence, and lack of concern for our residents is absolutely unacceptable,” Shapiro said Tuesday during a news conference with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
DeWine said Ohio’s attorney general had launched an investigation into the Feb. 3 accident in East Palestine, located about a quarter-mile from Beaver County.
Shapiro also visited residents in Darlington Township in Beaver County after they received water testing from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Shapiro said the area continues to see no concerning air or water quality readings following the train derailment, echoing the assurances county officials gave to residents last week
In addition, Shapiro called on Norfolk to reimburse fire departments in western Pennsylvania for the cost of replacing all equipment contaminated during the response and remediation.
Fire companies from Beaver, Lawrence, and Washington counties responded to the derailment and have since reported contaminated turnout gear, hose, and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) along with some drop tanks for water supply operations.
“Pennsylvanians impacted by this incident are safe right now because of the hard work and public service of first responders and fire departments in western Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said in a statement. “First responders answered the call – their departments deserve to be made whole and we expect Norfolk Southern to quickly reimburse any department that responded to the derailment and needs to replace equipment. My administration will continue to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for any and all impacts on the commonwealth.”
The EPA is using its authority under the federal Superfund law to order Norfolk to take all available measures to clean up contaminated air and water. The EPA can fine the railway company up to $70,000 a day if the work is not completed. The agency can also do the work itself if necessary and bill Norfolk Southern triple its costs.
Separately, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a package of reforms and called on railroad operators to take immediate steps to improve safety, such as accelerating the planned upgrade of tank cars.
A medical clinic staffed by contamination experts opened in East Palestine to evaluate residents’ complaints. Despite state and federal officials reiterating that their testing of air and water samples doesn’t show dangerous levels of any toxins, some people are complaining about constant headaches and irritated eyes as they worry about returning to their homes.
Shapiro placed the blame on Norfolk last week as residents on both sides of the state line worried about potential air and water contamination.
In a letter to Norfolk CEO Alan Shaw, Shapiro said he has serious concerns about the way the train company handled the 50-car derailment. While no one was injured in the wreck — which happened because of a mechanical issue with a rail car axle — the surrounding area had to be evacuated due to fears of a potential explosion from the hazardous chemicals on board the train. Beaver County was among the areas evacuated.
Shapiro accused Norfolk of mismanaging the disaster from the outset, citing the company’s failure to immediately notify the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Norfolk’s actions, he said, hampered the response from local and state agencies, and put residents and first responders at serious risk. Shapiro also said the company had been unwilling to look at alternatives to intentionally releasing and burning the five cars filled with vinyl chloride.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.