Controlled burn of toxic chemicals after 2023 Ohio train derailment wasn't necessary, NTSB

Norfolk Southern, the transportation company whose train derailed, defended the decision to vent and burn the derailed cars filled with chemicals.
Train derailment, Feb. 2023, East Palestine, Ohio

The controlled burn that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in February last year did not need to occur, as there was an alternative option, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy testified to the Senate.

"There was no justification to do a vent and burn," Homendy told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday.

After the Norfolk Southern train derailed, the public was initially informed that a controlled burn was necessary because the alternative would be an uncontrolled explosion because the train cars filled with toxic chemicals were getting hotter.

The decision makers on the ground of the derailment had only 13 minutes to make a decision on the controlled burn, Homendy confirmed Wednesday. 

"There was another option: Let it cool down. It was cooling down," Homendy said.

Experts from Oxy Vinyls, the company that produced the vinyl chloride in the derailed cars, were on the scene providing information to Norfolk Southern’s contractors following the derailment. Oxy Vinyls said a vent and burn was not needed, but the chemical producer was "left out of the room" when the final decision was made.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the East Palestine incident commander "were provided incomplete information to make a decision" about how to respond to the derailment. 

Norfolk Southern defended the decision to do a vent-and-burn. 

"The successful controlled release prevented a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled explosion that could have caused significant damage for the community. To date, continuous environmental testing in coordination with and alongside US and Ohio EPA has shown the air and drinking water in the community are safe," the transportation company said, according to the Ohio-based 19 News

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