Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, said Monday that he’s ‘horrified’ by the Norfolk Southern train derailment earlier this month in East Palestine, warning that many questions remain unanswered after a controlled release of toxic chemicals shrouded the town in thick plumes of black smoke.
About 50 cars, including several carrying vinyl chloride, derailed on the evening of Feb. 3 due to a broken axle.
Three days after the derailment, authorities decided to burn off the toxic gases to avoid an explosion, sending hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a toxic chemical used as a weapon in World War I, into the air.
The Environmental Protection Agency said that tests have not ‘detected any levels of concern in the community that can be attributed to the incident at this time,’ but Vance said he’s received troubling reports from people on the ground about the environmental impact.
‘I have heard alarming anecdotes about contaminated waterways and effects on wildlife. I encourage anyone with credible reports of environmental harms to contact my office,’ Vance said Monday. ‘This is a complex environmental disaster with impacts that may be difficult to assess in the short term. Long-term study will be imperative.’
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said the derailment ‘will have a significant negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the residents for decades.’
‘We need Congressional inquiry and direct action from [Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg] to address this tragedy,’ Omar tweeted on Monday.
The Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment on Monday evening. Buttigieg did speak at the National Association of Counties conference on Monday, but while he claimed racial disparities in construction crews, did not address the East Palestine derailment.
Surveillance video obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed one of the train car’s axles on fire about 20 miles outside of East Palestine on the night of the derailment, raising questions about whether conductors could have prevented the disaster.
Sen. Vance noted that there is a ‘troubling trend of catastrophic infrastructure problems in our country.’
‘Many questions remain unanswered about the quality of the braking system used, the durability of the repair parts in the trains, and the Transportation Department’s regulatory approach to our nation’s rail system,’ Vance said Monday.