Watch Now

Norfolk Southern commits to Ohio community following derailment

EPA says it will continue to conduct air- and water-quality monitoring in area

Smoke from the derailment site rises above the local landscape at East Palestine. (Photo: Shutterstock/RJ Bobin)

Norfolk Southern pledged to keep residents informed about progress on the investigation of the fiery derailment of one of its trains near East Palestine, Ohio, the railroad’s CEO said in a Thursday letter to the community.

“As we continue site cleanup, the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] moves forward with its investigation, and necessary environmental testing is carried out, I promise to keep you updated every step of the way,” said the letter from NS President and CEO Alan Shaw to area residents in Ohio and Pennsylvania. “I know there are still a lot of questions without answers. I know you’re tired. I know you’re worried. We will not let you down.”

NS’ comments come as the railroad and other parties, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, have received flak on social media over speculation about how much the area has been contaminated by the derailment and puncture of rail cars carrying hazardous materials. NS also did not show up to a town meeting with area residents about the derailmenttttt, according to news reports.

NS (NYSE: NSC) said it has been working on cleaning up the site, while state and federal officials with the Environmental Protection Agency have insisted they are conducting active air- and water-quality monitoring.

“EPA Region 5’s No. 1 priority is — and will always be — the health and safety of communities across the region,” said EPA Regional Administrator Debra Shore in a Tuesday update. “That’s why as soon as EPA was notified of the Norfolk Southern train derailment on Friday, Feb. 3, EPA personnel were on-site by 2 a.m. [EST] Saturday morning to assist with air monitoring.”

The agency has since said EPA Administrator Michael Regan would soon be arriving in Ohio to work with state and local officials. 

“Since then, EPA has been boots on the ground, leading robust air-quality testing — including with the state-of-the-art ASPECT [Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology] plane and a mobile analytical laboratory — in and around East Palestine,” Shore said.

Shore also said EPA Region 5 is working with its Ohio branch to determine what impact the spill might have had on surface and groundwater, and cooperating with the state in its sampling efforts at water treatment intake points along the Ohio River. 

EPA also said Tuesday it has continued monitoring local air quality for chemicals of concern, adding the threat of phosgene and hydrogen chloride no longer exists since the fire that involved vinyl chloride was extinguished Feb. 8. The agency also has notified NS that the railroad could be liable for monitoring and cleanup costs.

NS said Wednesday it has implemented an “extensive” outdoor air-monitoring program and is actively sampling the area’s drinking water supply wells and water system. NS has also distributed over $1.5 million in direct financial assistance and established a $1 million fund for the community. 

According to the NTSB, which is still actively investigating the incident, the derailment of the general merchandise freight train 32N occurred at about 8:54 p.m. EST on Feb. 3 on mainline track 1. Thirty-eight rail cars derailed and the ensuing fire damaged an additional 12 cars. Of the 20 total rail cars carrying hazardous materials, 11 derailed.

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.