Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) called for answers on Monday over the environmental hazards induced by a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this month.
The derailment, which occurred on February 3, started a fire that lasted for several days. Local and state officials moved to evacuate all residents within one mile of the crash and started a controlled burn of the chemicals to lower the risk of an explosion. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen that can contaminate water supplies, was released from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of dark smoke that were visible in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Vance, who was inaugurated to his first term in the Senate last month, said in a statement that his office will investigate reports from citizens of East Palestine with respect to environmental and health impacts from the controlled burn. “While those plumes of smoke are now gone, many questions remain,” he commented. “We continue to monitor environmental reports from multiple agencies about the quality of the air and water in the region. I have heard alarming anecdotes about contaminated waterways and effects on wildlife.”
Norfolk Southern, as well as state and federal environmental authorities, have not identified concerns with the water supply after they conducted drinking water tests. The Ohio Department of Agriculture said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire that the “food supply is safe and the risk to livestock remains low,” adding that the agency has not “received any official reports regarding the wellness of animals related to the incident.”
Vance said his team has been in contact with local, state, and federal agencies; he called on FEMA to provide resources for first responders handling fallout from the incident. “These firefighters deserve our gratitude for their heroism; they also deserve equipment they need for their jobs,” Vance remarked. “Local officials have also consistently encouraged me to ensure appropriate environmental testing continues. I am focused on that as well. My office will continue to engage with people on the ground, and deal with issues as they arise.”
Beyond the release of vinyl chloride, Norfolk Southern warned the EPA that a number of other volatile industrial chemicals were released at the derailment site. One train car containing ethylene glycol monobutyl ether currently has an “unknown status,” according to Norfolk Southern, while the amount of ethylhexyl acrylate in another car is still “pending.” The former substance can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, while the latter has been identified as a carcinogen in laboratory experiments.
Vance called for long-term studies of the disaster after noting a “troubling trend of catastrophic infrastructure problems in our country, and more than a few reports of sabotage.” The remark comes as Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives rebuke Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for remaining silent on the derailment for more than one week.
The derailment indeed follows a Chinese spy balloon traversing the continental United States, the Federal Aviation Administration grounding all flights due to an outage, Congress enacting an emergency intervention to halt a nationwide rail strike, and a holiday travel meltdown from Southwest Airlines. Buttigieg was previously slammed for taking months of paid leave after he and his husband adopted twins, even as supply chain bottlenecks severely constrained the American economy, worsening inflationary pressures.