'Deeply Sorry': Ohio's Toxic Trauma Faces Day of Reckoning on Capitol Hill
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The head of Norfolk Southern railway and key government officials appeared on Capitol Hill on Thursday to answer for the chemical train accident in East Palestine, Ohio.
More than a month after the accident, senators got their chance to grill the head of the Norfolk Southern train company. The hearing brought apologies and promises of action amid renewed demand for accountability.
It was a day of reckoning with the chief of the company responsible for the derailment on the hot seat. Alan Shaw, president & CEO of Norfolk Southern, said, "I want to begin today by expressing how deeply sorry I am for the impact this derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said, "The East Palestine train derailment was not pre-ordained, it was preventable. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Corporate greed, outdated safety regulations, lax hazardous material standards were all the fuel on a toxic fire that was ready to combust."
Shaw promised yet again to thoroughly clean the crash site and surrounding areas. "I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment," he said.
That means Norfolk Southern putting up millions of dollars for affected regions and touting a six point plan to improve rail safety, including enhanced real-time warnings to crews.
Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio EPA, said, "While this is Norfolk Southern's train, their wreck, and their mess, the entire apparatus of state government has been mobilized to assist as East Palestine begins to recover from this traumatic experience."
With the toxic clean up still underway, EPA representatives are vouching for the safety of the region's water and air.
Debra Shore, EPA regional administrator, said, "EPA monitors have not detected any volatile organic compounds above levels of public health concerns."
But now there are new questions over the intentional burning of certain hazardous chemicals carried by the train, including vinyl chloride, associated with increased cancer risks.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) said, "It's their car. It's their responsibility, and they weren't even considered before this decision to vent and burn it in the middle of a town. Doesn't that seem like possibly a mistake there?"
Shaw said, "We were at risk of a catastrophic rupture that would've resulted in uncontrolled release of hazardous materials."
"How do we know that the car wasn't working properly to begin with," Sen. Mullin replied. "Someone may need to be held responsible that made the decision to burn this off, because some of this and a lot of this could've been prevented."
As to the potential continuing environmental and health threat, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) leveled a point blank question.
He asked, "Would you live there, given what you've seen?" Shaw replied, "Yes sir."
President Biden, after initially declining to visit the site of the toxic train crash, now says he intends to visit "at some point." The Norfolk Southern chief and EPA representatives told Senator Graham they would join the president if asked to do so.
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