From NPR on February 8th (Residents can return home after crews burned chemicals in derailed tanker cars):
“About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash Friday night on the edge of East Palestine. Federal investigators say a mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the derailment.”
The derailed cars belong to Norfolk Southern who worked with the EPA to conduct a controlled burn of the chemicals, causing an evacuation of the area:
“Authorities in East Palestine had warned that burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the derailed tanker cars would send hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the air.”
Hazardous transport derailments happen from time to time. In 2005, Norfolk Southern also had a train accident in which two of its trains collided due to a faulty railroad switch (image below).
The EPA regulates emissions transport by requiring all hazard-carrying train companies to register with the EPA, to maintain an accurate manifest of the chemical aboard, and to report and move swiftly to remediate any spill or leak. So, it appears the approach is one in which we recognize that train crashes are infrequent, but when they occur the most important thing is to have an accurate idea of what the heck we just spilled into the environment (so we can quickly remediate).
While Norfolk Southern failed to timely-report the 2005 incident (and paid a fine), it appears they followed protocol with this weeks incident. Still, they are being sued for economic damages by local businesses and residents. And they may face civil suit payments for violations of the Clean Water Act. In 2005, they paid nearly $4M for the spill of several tons of cholrine as well as diesel fuel into the water supply.
*All information for the 2005 Graniteville, SC spill can be found here: EPA Report Graniteville Spill