In early February, the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, released millions of kilograms of toxic chemicals into the environment and thousands of people had to be evacuated. A month after that crash, another accident occurred on Saturday in Ohio, 290 kilometers northeast of Springfield, when 20 freight train cars derailed. Norfolk Southern said no hazardous materials were aboard the train and no injuries were reported. However, residents living near Saturday's derailment were urged to take shelter as a precaution.
Residents along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border are still dealing with fear and frustration after the February train derailment. Although there were no injuries, the derailment filled residents' homes with foul-smelling fumes and exposed many to carcinogenic compounds. Local waterways suffered a huge loss of aquatic life, and some area residents reported symptoms of chemical exposure. Although air quality has now returned to normal levels, some residents continue to suffer from nausea, headaches and skin rashes, and many are concerned about the long-term effects of the event on human health and the environment. Experts are now investigating dioxin contamination of the soil.
A massive political controversy has also arisen around the case. On the anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine, Biden made a visit to Kyiv. Republicans then criticized Biden for going there instead of to East Palestine. Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg has also come under criticism.
Nevertheless, active steps are already being taken to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail. Last week, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose announced a national initiative focused on inspections on routes that carry high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) and other trains carrying large volumes of hazmat commodities. Working with USDOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), FRA will identify these routes and prioritize them for inspection beginning immediately. Inspections will begin in East Palestine, Ohio, and expand to communities nationwide. Information will be shared with railroads as well as rail labor organizations, and it will be periodically published for the public to increase transparency.