Norfolk Southern Withheld Crucial ‘Controlled Explosion’ Warnings

The National Transportation Safety Board had some rather nasty things to say about Norfolk Southern Railroad, at an all-day hearing on Tuesday. It was held in the town of East Palestine, Ohio, and local residents paid close attention. NTSB offered “harsh criticism” for the decisions rail officials made in the immediate aftermath of the February, 2023, derailment. Especially, the one to perform a “controlled explosion and burn of five tank cars full of vinyl chloride.” They really shouldn’t have done that, experts say. They were warned about that ahead of time but made sure not to mention it to anyone else.

Norfolk Southern buried warning

On Tuesday, June 25, the town of East Palestine, Ohio, hosted a National Transportation Safety Board hearing where Norfolk Southern was blasted with harsh criticism.

The worst of the board’s ire was “focused on the railroad’s advocating for a controlled explosion and burn of five tank cars full of vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical.

In the height of the catastrophe, “Norfolk Southern told public officials who authorized the controlled burn, known as a vent and burn procedure, that it was the only way to prevent a catastrophic and uncontrolled explosion.” That’s not true, “NTSB staff and board members insisted at the hearing.

According to NTSB hazardous materials investigator Paul Stancil, “representatives from Oxy Vinyl, the shipper who owned the five tank cars of vinyl chloride, did not believe the procedure was justified by the facts available at the time.

Oxy Vinyl told that to Norfolk Southern “but Stancil said that information was not communicated to the public officials who had to make the final decision.” A lot of people in a two-state area are going to have incredibly serious health effects for the rest of their lives, as a direct result of that negligent failure to communicate.

Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance has no cure, no treatment and the medical community is baffled by it. Thanks to this disaster, there are currently six separate research studies investigating the long term effects, including possible DNA damage.

The worst of the board’s ire was “focused on the railroad’s advocating for a controlled explosion and burn of five tank cars full of vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical.”

Compromised the integrity

Norfolk Southern blew it. Figuratively and literally. The railroad “compromised the integrity of the vent and burn decision by withholding complete and accurate expert opinion and information from the incident commander.” It’s a dicey proposition in the first place.

Vent and burn is a seldom-used procedure that should only be used when there is a high probability of catastrophic tank shell failure.” There were no indications that the tanks weren’t going to hold.

No matter what Norfolk Southern officials have to say on the matter, the data collected from the scene “showed no evidence that an uncontrolled explosion was likely.” The railroad continues to swear up and down they had to do it.

In a formal statement, they claim their officials “made the recommendation based on the best available information at the time.” They also take offense at the phrase while maintaining that they didn’t “withhold” any information.

The NTSB mischaracterized the basis of the recommendation,” Norfolk Southern’s PR expert writes. “Several key factors indicated the strong possibility of a catastrophic, uncontrolled explosion.” They aren’t listing them out though. “The vent and burn effectively avoided a potential uncontrolled explosion.” They make a point of noting that it could have been worse. “There was no loss of life, injuries, or damage to property, and contractors took steps to manage environmental impact.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy had a disgusted look on her face and appeared like she wanted to slap somebody. She called that statement “insulting” and “an attempt to shift blame to the public officials” who listened to Norfolk Southern’s flawed recommendation.

The public officials “did absolutely nothing wrong.” In fact, she insists, they “did a phenomenal job with the limited information they had in a very chaotic situation. It’s disgusting that anyone would say that.

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