DARLINGTON, PA — A bipartisan House Policy Committee hearing, featuring members of the House Majority Policy Committee and the Republican Policy Committee, heard testimony Tuesday on the state and local response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on the night of Feb. 3.
The derailment included multiple cars carrying hazardous materials.
“I think the key ingredient today for us was to learn,” said Rob Matzie, the Majority Policy Committee host. “We have been talking about what we can do relative to rail safety. There are a lot of questions, and we will explore each and every option as we continue this dialogue and pursue every option.”
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield estimated the derailment happened only hundreds of feet from Beaver County.
“Beaver County residents deserve clean air, soil and water, and I am glad to work with the bipartisan policy team and Governor Shapiro’s administration to deliver results,” Republican host Rep. Jim Marshall said.
Ohio authorities were notified on Feb. 5 that a car containing vinyl chloride, a toxic flammable gas that is handled and shipped under high pressure as a liquid, was at risk of exploding. Initially the plan was to vent and burn the contents of one car, but Norfolk Southern ultimately performed a controlled release and burn of five tanker cars of vinyl chloride – reported by the National Transportation Safety Board to be 115,580 gallons – on Feb. 6.
In detailing how the vent and burn progressed from one car to five, Padfield relayed that the fear became a catastrophic event involving all five cars. He recalled a member of Norfolk Southern explained that they had 200 years of experience and that was their recommendation. They did not provide other courses of action, Padfield said.
“Many of the questions today explored the potential negative effects on public safety in the aftermath of this disaster,” Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said. “We heard consistent answers that long-term monitoring and investments will be needed.”
Richard Negrin, the acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, noted that thousands of data points have been collected and recorded from air, groundwater and surface water. So far, Negrin said, those data points don’t surpass the short-term exposure threshold.
“That does not mean we are letting our guard down going forward,” Negrin said about the need to continue monitoring groundwater for levels and long-term risks.
He reassured the committee that the DEP is not using Norfolk Southern data to make statewide decisions.
“The community deserves to hear answers on what transpired, and I believe today was a good start,” Republican Policy Committee chairman Josh Kail said. “As this process continues, I hope that further collaboration will continue to help the people of Beaver County.”
Russell Redding, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, noted that results from soil, air and water will continue to guide his department’s response in monitoring the long-term health effects – including monitoring animals and food production.
“Although it should not take an emergency such as this, I hope this is an impetus
for better support of Emergency Management Programs,” Eric Brewer, the director of Emergency Services for Beaver County, wrote in his submitted testimony. “Most emergency management systems across the country have outdated laws, are underfunded, understaffed and in some areas are non-existent until a disaster happens. This needs corrected at all levels of government.”
Submitted testimony for the hearing can be found here at https://bit.ly/31423Hearing. Photos to use for publication are available at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.
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