NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on East Palestine Train Derailment, Chemical Spill

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, sending 38 railcars off the tracks.[0] Five of the cars were carrying 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic and flammable chemical.[1] The derailment caused a massive chemical spill and posed a risk of explosion.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report, providing insight into the events leading up to the derailment.[1] According to the report, the crew of the train became aware of an overheated wheel bearing just moments before the wreck and attempted to stop the train.[2] Monitoring equipment alerted the crew to the bearing, which was 253 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient temperature.[3]

The crew applied brakes to slow and stop the train, and then observed fire and smoke.[4] With dispatcher authorization, they applied handbrakes to the two railcars at the head of the train, uncoupled the head-end locomotives, and moved the locomotives about a mile away from the uncoupled railcars.[5] Responders arrived at the site and began response efforts.[5]

The NTSB report also noted that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) conducted a survey of the waterways for dead aquatic species, with the help of the environmental consulting firm, EnviroScience.[6] They established four collection stations and gathered data on Feb. 6 and 7, estimating approximately 38,220 minnows and around 5,500 other species were killed in the five-mile span of the impact area, which runs from the derailment site to Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek and North Fork Little Beaver Creek.[6]

The NTSB will now focus its investigation on the wheelset and bearing; tank car design and derailment damage; a review of the accident response, including the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride; railcar design and maintenance procedures and practices; the train operator’s use of wayside defect detectors; and the company’s railcar inspection practices.[7]

Ohio residents have reported experiencing headaches, dizziness, nausea and bloody noses following the train crash, health issues they say they did not have prior to the crash.[8] However, government agencies have repeatedly stated that tests have shown that the municipal water supply and air quality are safe.[9] ODNR has also reported that they have not seen any signs of fish in distress and that a majority of the dead fish have been removed from the waterways.

0. “NTSB releases preliminary report on East Palestine train derailment” WTAE Pittsburgh, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.wtae.com/article/ntsb-preliminary-report-east-palestine-train-derailment/43041391

1. “A first report on the Ohio toxic train wreck was released. Here's what it found — and what investigators are still looking into” CNN, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/24/us/ohio-train-derailment-east-palestine-friday/index.html

2. “Norfolk Southern CEO fields questions from East Palestine residents” The Columbus Dispatch, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/local/2023/02/22/norfolk-southern-ceo-alan-shaw-fields-questions-from-east-palestine-residents-in-cnn-town-hall/69933974007/

3. “Train-Car Wheel Bearing Overheated Before Ohio Train Derailment, NTSB Finds” The Wall Street Journal, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/train-car-wheel-bearing-overheated-before-ohio-train-derailment-ntsb-finds-ad721c29

4. “Ohio toxic train crash killed nearly 45,000 animals” BBC, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64749041

5. “NTSB Preliminary Report: What happened before train derailment?” WKBN.com, 22 Feb. 2023, https://www.wkbn.com/news/local-news/east-palestine-train-derailment/ntsb-to-release-preliminary-report-in-east-palestine-train-derailment/

6. “East Palestine train derailment killed 40,000 fish” Canton Repository, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.cantonrep.com/story/news/2023/02/23/east-palestine-train-derailment-wildlife-impact/69935455007/

7. “NTSB calls Ohio train derailment ‘100% preventable,' says operators were warned of overheated axle” Fox News, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/us/ohio-train-derailment-operators-warned-overheated-axle-moments-before-wreck-ntsb

8. “Angry Ohio residents confront train CEO during CNN town hall on toxic wreck” CNN, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/23/us/ohio-train-derailment-east-palestine-townhall-takeaways/index.html

9. “Officials make a show of drinking East Palestine water in attempt to prove it's safe” Yahoo News, 23 Feb. 2023, https://news.yahoo.com/east-palestine-drinking-water-officials-photo-ops-devils-milkshake-224415127.html

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