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Another Norfolk Southern train derails in Ohio

The train that went off the tracks in Springfield was not carrying any hazardous materials, officials say

Another train operated by the Norfolk Southern railroad company derailed near Springfield, Ohio on Mar. 4, a month after the East Palestine derailment. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Bill Lackey/Reuters)
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A Norfolk Southern train went off its tracks Saturday in western Ohio, leading to a brief shelter-in-place order and marking the company’s second derailment in the state in about a month.

No hazardous chemicals leaked from the train, according to state, local and environmental officials. The 20 cars that derailed at around 4:45 p.m. in Springfield, about 40 miles west of Columbus, were carrying nonhazardous materials, Clark County authorities said Sunday, after state and local officials scoured the site.

“There was no release of any chemical or any hazardous material to the soil, to the air, to the water,” Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

The shelter-in-place order applied to four to five residential homes that were within 1,000 feet of the crash site, according to Springfield Fire Chief Dave Nagel. The order was lifted at 2:15 a.m., about 10 hours after issuing it.

More than 1,500 county residents lacked power in the hours after the derailment. As of Sunday afternoon, 49 residents were still without electricity, according to Nagel.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation, said Norfolk Southern representative Kraig Barner.

The 212-car train departing from Bellevue, Ohio, was traveling to Birmingham, Ala., with a two-man crew, and there were no injuries to the crew or anyone on the ground, Barner said.

Two tankers were carrying residual amounts of diesel exhaust fluid, the county said, and two others had residual amounts of polyacrylamide water solution. The county called those materials “common industrial products shipped via railroad” and noted that the area does not include a protected water source, “meaning there is no risk to public water systems or private wells at this time.”

“There is one PVC [polyvinyl chloride] pellet car that has affected the soil,” said Vogel. “We will be on-site ensuring that as cars as removed by Norfolk Southern that the soil is not impacted under the ground.”

The plastic pellets, made of a PVC resin, are not hazardous, added Barner.

The Ohio EPA planned to oversee cleanup Sunday.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in a Twitter post that President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called to offer the federal government’s assistance. Buttigieg tweeted that the derailment will be monitored closely.

The incident comes on the heels of the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train on the opposite side of the state that caused an explosion in East Palestine, sending dark plumes into the sky, coating the area with a chemical odor and raising concerns about pollution. Some of those derailed cars contained vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, and a 1,000-foot area around the tracks was “grossly contaminated.”

Buttigieg, White House face backlash in aftermath of Ohio derailment

The East Palestine derailment led officials to declare a shelter-in-place order affecting the outskirts of the crash site before evacuating half of the town’s residents. Then, a “drastic” temperature change in one of the cars on Feb. 5 led DeWine to warn of the potential for a “catastrophic” explosion that could send shrapnel flying as far as a mile away. After ordering more evacuations, authorities decided to try mitigating that risk through a “controlled release” of vinyl chloride, which unleashed a plume of toxic fumes.

Residents have since returned home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its air monitoring had not picked up hazardous levels of chemicals, but some people have continued worrying about whether they are safe.

Norfolk Southern, the fourth-largest railroad in the United States, has since faced scrutiny over the derailment and its response. The company took eight days to release a list of the train cars’ toxic contents.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), whose state is about a quarter-mile from the site of the East Palestine derailment, said in a letter to CEO Alan Shaw that Norfolk Southern failed to immediately inform authorities about the number of cars containing dangerous chemicals. He said the rail company also provided inaccurate information about the effects of, and did not explore options beyond, the controlled release.

Shaw is set to testify in Congress on Thursday about the East Palestine derailment and steps to prevent similar accidents.

Officials burned off toxic chemicals from Ohio train. Was it the right move?

Some lawmakers have already proposed new regulations.

Legislation introduced by Ohio’s U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R), would tighten safety rules for railroads, including requiring that rail carriers notify emergency response commissions about what hazardous materials are traveling through their states. Biden praised the bill, saying it would “make important progress.”

Brown said in a statement that Saturday’s derailment in Springfield demonstrated the need for the legislation.

“Ohio communities should not be forced to live in fear of another disaster,” Brown said.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) also called for the bill’s passage. Appearing on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, he cited a 2015 derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., and said action is needed.

“It’s time for us to get serious about this,” Manchin said. “We’re moving many, many products, many more products on the rails and on our roads than we ever did before.”

Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), whose district includes the site of Saturday’s derailment, called it “outrageous” during a Sunday appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” He said that although “it seems we may have missed a bullet in this one,” the risk for Ohio residents is unacceptable.

“The fact that we’re having derailment after derailment shows really the lack of investment, the disinvestment, in our infrastructure, and that needs to change,” Turner said.